Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Across Ohio, rallies for troops

An Iraqi-born American speaking at a peace rally denounced Saddam Hussein and said he embraces his new country even though its armed forces are bombing his homeland.

Speaking before about 100 people Sunday at a Portage Community Peace Coalition rally in Kent, Zaid Al-Nafoosi said he immigrated to the United States in 1997 from the city of Mosul and became a citizen.

"People in the United States question my allegiance, but I care about the community here as much as I care about Iraq and the people of Mosul," he said.

Al-Nafoosi, president of the Kent State University Moslem Student Association, said that he was grateful to be able to live in a country where he can speak freely.

"No one knows Saddam Hussein unless they have lived under his oppression and tyranny," Al-Nafoosi said.

Meanwhile, motorcyclists rallied in support of the Iraq war and U.S. troops at Cleveland's Public Square on Sunday. Police estimated the crowd at about 3,000.

"These soldiers have to be tired," said Chino Griffin, a former Army Ranger who fought in Vietnam. "I can feel what they're feeling because I've been there. You don't sleep. You sleep with one eye open."

It was similar to scenes across Ohio on Saturday, when people eager to display support for the troops held rallies in several cities.

In Mansfield, Mayor Lydia Reid said the downtown square rally with several thousand people was a "wonderful show of solidarity. We live in a nation that is dedicated to freedom."

The rally was arranged in part by the mother of a soldier who called from Iraq to ask if anti-war protests meant "does anyone really care?"

"I told him I promise I was going to get them to rise up and make some noise in Mansfield. I told him I would get together a rally," said Diane Ousley, a member of the Lincoln Heights Church of Christ.

Alfred Farmer attended the rally with his daughter, 6-year-old Sheri. "We came down to support the troops and to support America," he said.

"The sun is shining. You couldn't ask for a better day for this. It looks like the war will be over soon."

Residents of Middletown waved U.S. flags and listened to poems, speeches and patriotic songs.

Middletown Municipal Judge Mark Wall, a Vietnam veteran, gave the keynote speech praising the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

"All that these young men and women ask is the continued support and faith of the American people," Wall said.

In Lancaster, some of the 300 people in attendance waved flags and held posters with pictures of friends and families serving in the military.

"Ohio's contribution to this enormous effort has been large indeed," said Maj. Gen. John Smith, the adjutant general for the Ohio National Guard. "Our men and women come from your community, from your churches and neighborhoods."

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