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Last Updated: Monday, 17 March 2008, 12:22 GMT
Obama church responds in 9/11 row
Barack Obama (l) with his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ
The Rev Jeremiah Wright officiated at Barack Obama's wedding
The church attended by US presidential hopeful Barack Obama has dismissed criticism of its senior pastor over comments he made on race and US policy.

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright said in 2001 that the 9/11 attacks were like "chickens coming home to roost".

After the remarks resurfaced Mr Obama denounced them as "incendiary" and "completely inexcusable".

But now the church says the attacks on Mr Wright have been made by "external forces" that want to "vilify us".

In a statement released on Sunday, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago compared the criticism to the assassination of Martin Luther King.

"Nearly three weeks before the 40th commemoration anniversary of the murder of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the Rev Jeremiah A Wright Jr's character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe," the statement said.

Mr Wright helped Mr Obama affirm his Christian faith, officiated at his wedding and baptised his daughters.

The Democratic presidential hopeful said he had not been present during the sermon at which the pastor made the comments, and that he had looked to Mr Wright for spiritual, not political, guidance.

"I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies," he wrote.

'God damn America'

In a sermon on the Sunday after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Mr Wright told his congregation: "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards.

"America's chickens are coming home to roost."

In a 2003 sermon, Mr Wright said blacks should condemn the United States.

"God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human," he said.

Mr Obama rejected such comments, but told a town hall meeting on Saturday: "It reminds me: we've got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country. We've got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding... This country wants to move beyond these kinds of things."

He said of Mr Wright's comments, which have been widely aired on television and the internet: "If all I knew were those statements I saw on television, I would be shocked."

The Illinois senator is locked in a close race with New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, with the significant Pennsylvania primary vote due on 22 April.

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