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Thousands turn out at Capitol rally for troops
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Estimates of the crowd size at the Capitol rally varied. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Several thousand people gathered at the state Capitol on Saturday for a "Support the Troops" rally. Many of the demonstrators carried American flags and signs showing their support for the war in Iraq. However rally organizers say it was not a pro-war demonstration. They say it was a way to show the men and women fighting in the Persian Gulf that their work is appreciated.

St. Paul, Minn. — The Capitol steps and front lawn were covered by an undulating field of red, white and blue flags and signs. Many of the signs read Liberate Iraq - Support Our Troops. Those signs were the creation of rally organizer Joe Repya, a retired lieutenant colonel from Eagan.

Repya served as a master of ceremonies for the rally, but soon became a referee when speaker N. Ruby Zigrino received a few boos for saying some of the country's past policies in the middle east have caused some arabs and muslims to be suspicious of America.

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Image Gov.Tim Pawlenty

"Please, I had asked this young lady to speak to us, please give her the honor and dignity that you've given me," Repya told the crowd.

Zigrino is a Muslim and a naturalized citizen who came to America from the Middle East 25 years ago. She mostly spoke out in favor of the war with Iraq, and of her love for America. And she defended her right as a citizen to free speech.

"That is why I deserve the right to say these things and ask for a right to say these things," she said.

Following Zigrino's address Repya returned to the podium to say that regardless of political affiliation, race or ethnicity, that everyone should unite as Americans. His comments received resounding applause.

The rest of the speakers focused on praising the service of military men and women and their families. Gov. Tim Pawlenty told the crowd that he's met many of the National Guard troops from Minnesota who've been called up for duty. He recalled talking to an Guardsman, who's young son was holding tightly to his father's knee, begging his father not go away.

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Image Sen. Norm Coleman

"And you go up to this brave soldier, airman and you look him in the eye and you say, 'thank you for your service, sir.' And he looks at you back in the eye and says, 'it's my honor, it's my privilege, it's my duty. I'm happy to do it for my country,'" Pawlenty said.

Anti-war protests have been held around the world with more frequency since America and its allies began their attack on Iraq last week. Rallies were also held on Saturday at Macalester College and in Duluth.

A few of the demonstrators at the Capitol said they thought it was possible to be against the war and for the troops. But Tammy Clough of Burnsville says anti-war protests can have a negative impact on members of the military.

"I think it can certainly demoralize the troops. I think it's just important that we pull together no matter where we stand and just support our troops," she said.

U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, as well as fellow Republican Representatives Jim Ramstad, Gil Gutknecht and John Kline also addressed the rally. At one point during the event, most participants raised their hands when asked if they had a family member in the military.

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