Obama's former pastor reignites sermons debate

Presidential candidate Barack Obama's former pastor reignited the controversy surrounding his sermons on race in America as he defended his comments that the US brought the September 11 terror attacks upon itself today.

The Rev Jeremiah Wright told the National Press Club in Washington DC his comments that September 11 showed "America's chickens are coming home to roost" were taken out of context, but added: "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you."

The religious scholar and minister was Mr Obama's spiritual adviser for 20 years and his comments, which appeared on the internet and were replayed endless on US television news, damaged the Illinois senator's support among white, working-class voters.

This key group of supporters is seen as crucial to a Democratic victory in the November election against Republican John McCain and while Mr Obama denounced Wright's most controversial comments as incendiary, he has not severed ties with him.

Today, Mr Wright said the criticism of him and his remarks was misdirected.

"It is an attack on the black church, not an attack on Jeremiah Wright," he said.

He also rejected criticism that he was unpatriotic.

"I served six years in the military," he said.

"Does that make me patriotic? How many years did (Vice President Dick) Cheney serve?"

Mr Wright said Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where he delivered his sermons, had a long history of liberating the oppressed by feeding the hungry, supporting recovery for the addicted and helping senior citizens in need.

He added that members of his congregation had also fought in the military, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"My goddaughter's unit just arrived in Iraq this week while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls to die over a lie," he said.

He added he had warned Mr Obama that if he were elected president: "I'm coming after you too because you represent a country that grinds people under."

As Mr Obama and his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination Hillary Clinton head into the primary elections in Indiana and North Carolina on May 6, Mr Obama has sought to move the focus away from race.

But Mr Wright's speech today, along with others over the weekend, have moved the row back to centre stage.

Yesterday, Mr Wright told around 10,000 people at a meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in Detroit, Michigan, that he was "not one of the most divisive" black spiritual leaders.

"I'm one of the most descriptive," he said.

"I'm not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many in the corporate-owned media made it seem like I am running for the Oval Office."

Mr Obama admitted on Fox News Sunday race was "still a factor in our society", but he added: "Is that going to be the determining factor in a general election? No, because I'm absolutely confident that the American people - what they're looking for is somebody who can solve their problems."

Back on the campaign trail, Mr Obama, who would be the first black US president, leads polls in North Carolina, where there is a large African-American population.

But in Indiana, the former first lady, who would be the first woman US president, and Mr Obama are about even.