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Monday, 16 October, 2000, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Farrakhan backs racial harmony
Million Family March Washington DC
Thousands of families gathered for the march
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Washington DC on Monday for the Million Family March, aimed to raise the profile of family issues.

Brides for the mass wedding ceremony
The rally also saw a mass wedding ceremony
The crowd heard a call for racial harmony from controversial ethnic leader Louis Farrakhan who has been criticised in the past over anti-Jewish and anti-white comments.

The Nation of Islam leader called the rally to strengthen "the troubled family unit" in the United States, particularly in the black community.

The rally - which included a mass wedding ceremony - comes five years after Mr Farrakhan's Million Man March, which was aimed at empowering black men.

More diverse than 1995

Participants of the march along the Mall
The march was more diverse than the 1995 march

In the carnival-like atmosphere, people sat, slept or walked in the capital's Mall - the area between Congress and the Lincoln Memorial.

Unlike the 1995 march, which was exclusively for African-American men, Monday's march invited people from more diverse backgrounds.

The leader of the Unification Church, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, also backed and contributed towards the march.

Organisers were hoping to draw a million families for the march, but attendance at midday - which was mostly black - was far lower.

'Decline of civilization'

March director Benjamin Muhammad said the "spirit of the Million Man March" was still alive.

Speakers at the march urged people to improve their family lives.

Ben Muhammad, Director of the Million Family March
Ben Muhammad, Director of the Million Family March addresses the marchers
Mr Farrakhan, who heads the Nation of Islam, called for a day of "atonement, reconciliation and responsibility."

"[When] you have a great society [such] as the United States of America and 50% of those who marry get divorced within the first three years, these are signs of the decline of a civilization," he said.

Mr Farrakhan appeared to have a softer tone than in the past, speaking of racial harmony as he held a basket of flowers.

He also said God would be displeased by the deaths of both Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

On a television show on Sunday, Mr Farrakhan said 70% of black children were born to unwed mothers.

Million Mom march
This year 's Million Mom March protested against gun violence
March organisers hope that the event will give momentum to their proposals on welfare, education reform and drug abuse prevention.

The event follows the "Million Mom March" earlier this year and the "Million Woman March" in Philadelphia in 1997.

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See also:

29 Aug 00 | Americas
Muslims 'key' to US elections
15 May 00 | Americas
US moms protest against guns
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29 Oct 99 | Americas
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25 Oct 97 | World
Black women march for unity
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