NEW YORK — Thousands of people gathered Wednesday in the streets near the United Nations for a rally called by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who demanded that the U.N. take action against the United States for "genocide" of blacks and Native Americans.
The "Day of Atonement" rally, which organizers said was being broadcast by satellite across the country and around the world, was intended to commemorate the first anniversary of last year's "Million Man March."
But unlike the historic march in Washington, which brought together hundreds of thousands of African American men, Wednesday's rally drew much-smaller crowds, enjoyed little support from national black leaders and featured an agenda crafted almost exclusively by Farrakhan.
In a 2 1/2-hour speech that many in the crowd at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza watched on two scoreboard-sized television monitors, Farrakhan called on the United States to acknowledge and take steps to repair the damage done by its past transgressions, including slavery and covert efforts to destabilize foreign governments.
Farrakhan also challenged the United Nations to "stand up" to the United States, which he said exerts undue influence on the world body, leading it to endorse "unjust" policies such as international sanctions against Iraq and Libya.
Farrakhan's visits to those two countries, and his efforts to win U.S. government approval for a $1-billion gift from Libya, have generated controversy.
The Nation of Islam leader also called on the United States to lift its economic embargo against Cuba.
Many in the crowd applauded Farrakhan's speech and celebrated appearances by Winnie Mandela, the former wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, and recording star Stephanie Mills, who were among the few celebrities on the program.
But the audience seemed less concerned with Farrakhan's foreign-policy agenda than in attempting to recapture the spirit of the "Million Man March."
"I'm here because I wanted to be with the brothers and sisters to celebrate the anniversary of the march," said Ryan Yarborough, 25, a financial planner who played two years in the National Football League. "I really want to see my community improved and my people uplifted."
The midday rally was held less than a block from the offices of the Anti-Defamation League, for years both a target and nemesis of Farrakhan's, prompting a large show of force by the New York police. And despite threats of counter-protests by Jewish groups who consider Farrakhan to be an anti-Semite, only one small band of protesters materialized. Police reported no problems.
Through much of his address to the 20,000 to 30,000 people in the crowd, Farrakhan focused on the conservative message of personal responsibility that has been one of his hallmarks. But Farrakhan also talked about his controversial tour of Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.