US & Canada

US conservatives rally on civil rights anniversary

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Media captionSarah Palin: "You have the same spine and moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King"

Tens of thousands of people have attended a controversial rally in Washington DC organised by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck.

Civil rights leaders criticised Mr Beck for holding the rally at the Lincoln Memorial, the place where Martin Luther King Jr made his "I Have a Dream" speech 47 years ago to the day.

Former US vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin also spoke at the rally.

Civil rights campaigners held a counter-rally nearby.

'Restoring honour'

Addressing the conservative rally, Mr Beck - a presenter for Fox News - said the US had "wandered in darkness" for too long.

"America today begins to turn back to God," he said.

He told the crowd the timing of the "Restoring Honour" rally was coincidence but also divine providence.

Mrs Palin compared those at the rally with the civil rights activists who marched on Washington in 1963 to hear Dr King's speech.

The same spirit that helped civil rights activists overcome oppression and violence would help this group as well, she said.

"You have the same steel spine and the moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King," Mrs Palin said. "It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them."

Our correspondent in Washington DC, Paul Adams, says those in attendance were there to reaffirm their patriotism and share their conviction that the country had lost its way.

The crowd was good-natured, our correspondent says, but the people there believed their freedoms were being taken away from them by an overweening government.

A counter-rally organised by the civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton took place at the same time.

Participants marched to the site of a proposed memorial to Dr King, not far from the Lincoln Memorial.

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Media captionGlenn Beck: 'America today begins to turn back to God'

Civil rights leaders say Mr Beck's message runs counter to that of Dr King.

"It's an affront to what the civil rights movement stood for," Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"We didn't do anything in anger and never tried to divide people. Glenn Beck is a very divisive force."

The 1963 march was a pivotal moment in the US civil rights movement. Dr King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial that day foresaw a united nation, free from racial discrimination. It is one of the most celebrated works of American oratory.

Mr Beck is a prominent voice in the anti-establishment Tea Party movement. Last year he accused President Barack Obama of racism, saying he had a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture".

He said when he was planning the rally in the US capital he was unaware that Saturday 28 August would be the anniversary of the 1963 march.

"It's not the date, it's the message," he said on his television show on Thursday.

"I've heard it over and over again in the media that because of this event, on the date of this event, I'm somehow or another hijacking Dr Martin Luther King's speech. I'm not big enough to do that. No-one is."

The Tea Party movement has galvanised conservatives opposed to taxes and government intervention.

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