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Rallies held over proposed Islamic center

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Rival rallies over Islamic center
  • Demonstrators hold dueling rallies in New York
  • Police are keeping them away from each other
  • Supporters of Islamic center near ground zero decry racism

See photos from the scene at CNN iReport.

New York (CNN) -- Hours after families remembered those killed nine years ago at ground zero, the nation's debate over a proposed Islamic center and mosque that may be built only blocks away played out Saturday at opposing rallies.

A rally in support of the center began first. Speakers reminded the nation that Muslims, too, were among the victims of the September 11 attacks and that anti-Islamic sentiment in America is the result of misguided wrath.

"Unity yes, racism no," the demonstrators chanted.

"Our message is we stand together in face of racism, a mobilization for war and against anti-Muslim bigotry," said event organizer Sara Flounders.

Other demonstrators said Americans should remember the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. One said Islam is being unfairly portrayed as the 21st-century version of communism.

Video: 9/11 families split over mosque
Map: Proposed Islamic cultural center

Those opposed to the mosque chanted "USA" and "No Mosque" during one speech. Many carried American flags.

New York City police kept rallies and participants away from each other. They reported no incidents.

The march in support of the center was about two blocks long and drew about 2,000 participants, police said. They said the rally in opposition was a bit larger.

Not all of the debate was contained to the rallies. Several impromptu arguments were seen between those in favor of and against the Islamic center location.

The religious leader behind plans to build the complex has said that America's national security depends on how it handles the controversy.

"If we move from that location, the story will be the radicals have taken over the discourse," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told CNN's Soledad O'Brien this week on "Larry King Live."

"The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack."

But some critics decried his assessment.

"The whole national security thing: that's a veiled threat," Andy Sullivan, a union construction worker who wants all New York construction workers to boycott the proposed Islamic center, said on CNN's "AC 360."

"He's saying 'you make me move' and, guess what, the whole radical Muslim world is coming after us. This is a turf war."

CNN's Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.