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Obama to deliver eulogy as Charleston mourns its dead

obamaNine days after a white alleged supremacist gunman slaughtered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, President Barack Obama was Friday to address the funeral of one of his friends.

Obama’s eulogy for Pastor Clementa Pinckney, cut down last week, will be watched closely in a nation still raw from the shock of an attack meant to tear open its racial divide.

The city of Charleston, South Carolina has tried to come together after the killings, and 6,000 people gathered at the ceremony, a short distance from the scene of the crime.

Some arrived in the early hours, anxious to find a place in the historical center of the genteel southern city, near the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“We need to come together,” said 66-year-old Rose Marie Manigault, who made the short trip from Mount Pleasant to pick her spot just before dawn broke over the gathering throng.

“I want to thank America for standing with us,” said 56-year-old medical assistant Mary Lee.

“A lot has already happened since the tragedy,” she added, welcoming moves to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of South Carolina’s state house.

The young man charged with the murders, Dylann Roof, 21, published a white supremacist manifesto before the attack, including pictures of him with the flag.

– Legacy of racism –

The banner, once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage and by many more as an ugly reminder of racism’s cruel legacy.

In the wake of the attacks, many government bodies and private firms have moved to remove it from view, and several politicians have spoken out against its use.

As well as stirring debate about America’s racial divides, the massacre also fed the frustration felt by many at the country’s failure to control its gun culture.

Obama, having seen previous initiatives to control gun ownership fail in Congress, has expressed anger and declared that “at some point” America would have to act.

On Wednesday, thousands filed past Pinckney’s open coffin at the South Carolina legislature in the state capital Columbia, where he had served as a senator.

Services for the other victims are scheduled throughout the weekend and into next week.

Former State representative Curtis Brantley, a friend of Reverend Pinckney said: “It’s just an overwhelming expression of love and fellowship, to really see people come out and be a part of this unfortunate situation.”

Another former representative and friend of the deceased, Curtis Brantley, said: “I’m hoping the president will simply share with us the importance of our getting along and understanding that people are people, regardless of their race, creed or color.”

Meanwhile, a police officer in North Charleston was fired Thursday after images of him wearing Confederate flag underwear circulated online, an ABC affiliate reported.

In Washington, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said earlier this week it was too early to say whether Roof will face federal civil rights charges.

A hate crimes investigation is unfolding, she said, but “it’s simply premature” to say how Roof might be charged.

South Carolina has charged Roof with nine counts of murder.

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