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Protesters decry Obama stance on Pakistan

Tribune photo by Candice C. Cusic, August 7, 2007

Raza Don (from left), Hameed Ullah Khan and Sony Javid protest Sen. Barack Obama's appearance during a fundraiser Tuesday at a Chicago restaurant on West Devon Avenue.

By John McCormick | Tribune staff reporter

2:17 PM CDT, August 7, 2007 - LINK

A small group of protesters assembled this afternoon across the street from an Indian restaurant in Chicago where Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama was holding a fundraiser.

The mostly Pakistani group chanted anti-Obama slogans in response to a threat the Illinois Democrat made last week about his willingness, if elected president, to launch unilateral American military strikes against Al Qaeda havens in a remote border region of Pakistan.

"Obama, hypocrite," the group repeatedly chanted, as some of the 25 or so assembled held signs that read "Sen. Obama, Good speaker. But no clue what to speak" and "Obama equal Osama," a reference to Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Organizers said Obama's statements about Pakistan triggered the protest across the street from Mysore Woodlands restaurant at the corner of Rockwell Street and Devon Avenue.

"His image was that he is not a macho guy, so he wanted to prove that he's a macho, macho man," said Ifti Nasim, one of the organizers. "This shows his true colors. He's a war-monger."

Others said they are also disappointed with Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

"Barack Obama is advocating bombing an entire nation. This man is not our friend," said Andy Thayer, a spokesman for the Chicago Coalition Against War. "Hillary Clinton is also not our friend. She called for not taking the nuclear option off the table."

Obama, who has long been an opponent of the Iraq war, was brought into the back of the restaurant and was not available for comment.

On Saturday, in a brief interview with the Tribune, Obama said he was not surprised by reports of street protests in Pakistan after his statement.

"Anytime you criticize a foreign government ... there's going to be some reaction," he said. "I haven't heard anyone disputing the basic notion that Pakistan, although an ally, has not done as much as it needs to in terms of rooting out people who were directly responsible for killing Americans."

Asked whether he is concerned about potential violence because of his statements, he said no. "It certainly would not be because of what I say," he said.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) attended the fundraiser and spoke briefly with the protesters outside. "I would not advocate a pre-emptive strike against any sovereign nation," he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Tariq Siddiqi, a Chicago real estate developer who helped organize the fundraiser, said he expected the event would attract about 60 people and raise about $75,000.

Siddiqi, who described himself as a longtime friend of Obama's, said the media has mischaracterized what Obama meant. "At no time … have I felt like he is against my country," he said.

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama offered to meet privately with a small group of the protesters following the fundraising lunch, but they declined the offer.

The distraction to his campaign comes as seven Democratic presidential candidates are expected to participate in an AFL-CIO forum this evening at Soldier Field.


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