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UPDATE 9-Trump arrives in Pittsburgh as synagogue victims mourned, protesters gather

Updated: 31-10-2018 02:41 IST

U.S. President Donald Trump, shrugging off objections from some critics that he was unwelcome, arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to offer condolences for the 11 Jewish worshipers shot to death in their synagogue, as thousands of mourners attended the first funerals for victims of the massacre.

The president, who opponents say has stoked a toxic political climate conducive to acts of violence, planned to visit hospitalized police officers and other people wounded in Saturday's attack by an avowed anti-Semite at the Tree of Life temple in Pittsburgh.

Members of Pittsburgh's Jewish community held a protest march against Trump as his visit began.

Trump was accompanied on his flight from Washington to Pennsylvania's second-largest city by first lady Melania Trump. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, his daughter and son in law who are Jewish, joined them.

Trump traveled to Pittsburgh just seven days before elections that will determine whether Trump's Republican Party will maintain its control in both houses of Congress or whether the Democrats will seize a majority in one chamber or both.

The first funerals for the victims of the attack were held on Tuesday. More than 1,800 people, some from across the United States, came to pay respects to relatives of David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59, at Rodef Shalom, another synagogue in the Squirrel Hill district that forms the heart of the city's Jewish community. Police officers were posted outside the temple.

The two brothers, who lived at a home for people with disabilities, were among the 11 mostly elderly congregants killed when a gunman stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire on worshipers, yelling, "All Jews must die."

Services also held for Jerry Rabinowitz, a 66-year-old family physician, and retiree Daniel Stein, 71. The crowd of about 2,000 at Rabinowitz's funeral included nurses dressed in their surgical scrubs.

The accused gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, was arrested after he was wounded in a shootout with police. He has been charged with 29 federal felony counts, including hate crimes, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

The attack - which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has described as the deadliest targeting Jews in U.S. history - has heightened a national debate over Trump's rhetoric, which critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity.

The Trump administration has rejected the notion that he has encouraged far-right extremists who have embraced him.


Protest organizers in announcing the action rebuked Trump. "The gunman who tore apart our neighborhood believed your lies about the immigrant caravan in Mexico," they said, referring to a group of migrants who are trekking through Mexico toward the United States. "He believed anti-Semitic lies that Jews were funding the caravan."

In a social media post on Saturday, Bowers accused the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), a group that helps refugees, of bringing "invaders in that kill our people."

The protest announcement echoed an open letter from a group of local Jewish leaders who told Trump: "You are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism."

More than 75,000 people have signed the letter, organized and posted online by the Pittsburgh chapter of Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization opposed to what it calls "the immoral agenda of the Trump administration and the Republican Party."

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he was also against Trump's visit because it would coincide with the first funerals.

Peduto, a Democrat, said Trump should wait until all the funerals were held, adding that the visit and additional security measures entailed would distract attention from the "priority" of burying the dead.

Trump has tweeted often about caravans of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico en route to the United States, characterizing them as an "invasion" and falsely stating they harbor terrorists and are financed in part by Democrats - comments that have drawn increased scrutiny after Saturday's massacre.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)