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Obama to lead terror tributes

WASHINGTON, Sep 11 – President Barack Obama was on Friday to lead tributes to the nearly 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001 on the eighth anniversary of the devastating attacks.

Events were scheduled across the United States to remember the day four airliners hijacked by Al-Qaeda were flown into the World Trade Centre towers in New York, the Defence Department headquarters near Washington and a Pennsylvania field.

Obama will pay tribute to the victims in a speech at the Pentagon, then meet with relatives of those killed in the attacks. Vice President Joseph Biden will attend commemorative events in New York, the White House said.

The day of tributes begins in New York, where two jet airliners slammed into the Twin Towers, killing 2,752 people and prompting President George W. Bush to declare a "war on terror".

At the site where the towers once stood, relatives of those killed will join volunteers from across New York to read the names of the victims.

The public reading, now an annual ritual, will be paused four times to mark the moments when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 hit the buildings, and when the two towers collapsed.

At nightfall, two beams of light will shoot skyward from the site.

Obama is to lead the tributes in Arlington, Virginia, where a third hijacked plane, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon building.

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The president, accompanied by Defence Secretary Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, is to observe a moment of silence, deliver a speech and lay a wreath.

He will then meet with relatives of the victims and tour a memorial to the 184 people killed on the ground and aboard Flight 77.

The Pentagon memorial is the only major official monument to the victims of the September 11 attacks, with plans for similar sites in New York and Pennsylvania held up in part by financial and legal wrangling.

At the World Trade Centre site, progress has been slow on the foundation of "Freedom Tower" — part of a planned complex of five new skyscrapers, with a park and memorial in the middle.

With plans hampered by the financial crisis and the real estate downturn, the site just looks like a large hole, although work on foundations of several key elements is underway and the frame for the future tower is rising.

According to a poll last week by Quinnipiac University, 25 percent of New Yorkers said the slow pace on constructing a memorial made them "ashamed," the highest number to give that answer since it was first asked in 2006.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in an open field after passengers overwhelmed the hijackers, tributes begin on Friday with a reading of victims’ names.

Many believe the hijackers intended to crash the plane into the Congress building in Washington.

Prayer services and interfaith remembrances are scheduled throughout the day, with a candlelight "peace vigil" closing out the commemorations.

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Plans for a Flight 93 memorial have been hampered by controversy over the shape of the monument, and arguments over whether the government can seize private land for the site.

A final design, featuring a wall with the names of the victims, is scheduled to be completed by September 11, 2011.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a bronze plaque paying tribute to "the passengers and crew of Flight 93, whose brave sacrifice… not only saved countless lives but may have saved the US Capitol from destruction."

For many Americans, the anniversary of the attacks is a time to remember US troops serving abroad, including those sent to Iraq and Afghanistan after the "war on terror" declaration.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged on Thursday that Obama has consciously tried to avoid using the "war on terror" phrase, but stressed that the president will remember those serving abroad on Friday, as he does on a daily basis.

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