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Obama, enroute to Denmark, hails Mahatma Gandhi

October 1, 2009 |  7:00 pm


(UPDATE: 12:44 a.m. Friday. President Obama concluded his remarks to the Olympic selection committee, which intends to vote on the final site -- Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo -- Friday afternoon. The announced presidential plans are for Obama and his wife to be in the air, presumably enroute back to Washington, when the vote comes.)

Heading off for Copenhagen to do what he loves best -- campaign -- President Obama issued a special message (see full text below) Thursday evening to commemorate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Indian independence and civil rights leader, credited as modern history's foremost proponent of nonviolence and mass civil disobedience, would have been 140 on Friday.

Born in the 19th century, Gandhi was a 20th century spiritual pioneer credited with inspiring many similar individuals and movements around the world, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights pioneer, who was also assassinated.

Unlike some others who accomplished far less in more modern times, Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Strolling in his garden, Gandhi was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, by a fellow Hindu, who was later executed with an accomplice. In a nationwide radio address the day of Gandhi's death, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said:

Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more.

Obama is flying overnight tonight to Copenhagen to join his wife Michelle. They will lobby the International Olympic Committee to pick Chicago for the 2016 Summer Games in a Friday afternoon vote. Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo are also candidates.

Here is Obama's Gandhi statement, as provided by the White House, including a confusing passage that could appear to imply Dr. King met with Gandhi in 1959, 11 years after his death:

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Statement by President Obama on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary

On behalf of the American people, I want to express appreciation for the life and lessons of Mahatma Gandhi on the anniversary of his birth. This is an important moment to reflect on his message of non-violence, which continues to inspire people and political movements across the globe.

We join the people of India in celebrating this great soul who lived a life dedicated to the cause of advancing justice, showing tolerance to all, and creating change through non-violent resistance.

Americans owe an enormous measure of gratitude to the Mahatma. His teachings and ideals, shared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1959 pilgrimage to India, transformed American society through our civil rights movement. The America of today has its roots in the India of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent social action movement for Indian independence which he led.

Tomorrow, as we remember the Mahatma on his birthday, we must renew our commitment to live his ideals and to celebrate the dignity of all human beings.   ###

Photo: Associated Press