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Religious tensions highlighted at UN General Assembly
US President Barack Obama has defended free speech and called for a united stance against the recent wave of violence triggered by an anti-Islamic video.

US President Barack Obama has defended free speech and called for a united stance against the recent wave of violence triggered by an anti-Islamic video.

Joanna McCarthy reports.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: We face a choice, between the forces that will drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common. Today we must reaffirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens and not by his killers.

Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our United Nations.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: The optimism of the Arab spring has given way to this.

(Footage of protests plays)

BARACK OBAMA: There are no words that excuse the killing of innocence civilians. There is no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There is no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon or destroy a school in Tunis, cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: The pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East dominated last year's UN meeting. But this year the anger on the same streets is directed not against dictators but against an anti Islamic film that’s exposed a deep cultural divide.

MOHAMED MORSI, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT: As a Muslim, I believe human life is scared but must also understand that physical violence is not the only form of violence. While we must acknowledge the importance of freedom of expression, we must also recognise that such freedom comes with responsibilities, especially when it has serious implications for international peace and stability.

(Footage of protests plays)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: And there are growing calls for those provocations to be outlawed, including from the world's biggest Muslim democracy.

SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO, INDONESIAN PRESIDENT: Freedom of expression is therefore not absolute. Hence, I call for an international instrument to effectively prevent incitement of hostility or violence based on religions or belief.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: But the US president gave little ground.

BARACK OBAMA: I know there are some who ask why don't we just ban such a video? The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offence. As president of our country, and Commander In Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day. And I will always defend their right to do so.


(Footage of protests plays)

JOANNA MCCARTHY: The president's speech has already drawn a fiery response.

The leader of a hard line Islamist group in Pakistan accused Mr Obama of igniting a clash of civilisations.

But in New York, the president won solid support from Australia, where the film has also provoked violent protests.

JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: There is nothing natural or inevitable about violent conflict over religious belief. We must reaffirm this again today. Denigration of religious beliefs is never acceptable. Australia seeks to be an example of freedom for all faiths and we support this in the wider world.

(Footage of protests in Sydney plays)

However, our tolerance must never extend to tolerating religious hatred and incitement to violence.

JOANNA MCCARTHY: But the head of the Arab League told the meeting the attacks should sound a warning bell and that only blasphemy laws will contain the threat to global peace and security.

(Footage of protests plays)

In the divide between the West and the fledgling democracies of the Arab spring on this issue there appears little common ground.
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