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Bells toll as America remembers 9/11

New York, Sept. 11 (Reuters): Americans rang church bells, remembered the nearly 3,000 dead and gathered to pray today to mark the third anniversary of the devastating September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.

At the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York, parents and grandparents of the victims solemnly read the names of victims before a large crowd, adding personal comments or blowing kisses skyward.

'We love you more today than yesterday, and we will love you more tomorrow than today,' one mother said. Musicians played softly as the names were read.

The ceremonies were smaller and more subdued than those of the first two years since the attacks, and some speakers used the day, within two months of the November 2 presidential election, to make political points.

In Washington, President George W. Bush led a national moment of silence and then used his weekly radio address to mark the day. 'Three years ago, the struggle of good against evil was compressed into a single morning,' he said, describing the 102 minutes in which hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

In Boston, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee seeking to replace Bush in the White House, called for Americans to come together to fight terrorism.

'While September 11 was the worst day we have ever seen, it brought out the best in all of us,' he said. 'And we must always remember that we will only defeat those who sought to destroy us by standing together as one America.'

Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld discussed the al Qaida hijackers and praised the US and Bush at a September 11 memorial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery that included a moment of silence at 9.37 am when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon three years ago.

'They wanted America to retreat from the world, so that they could impose their ideology of oppression and of hatred. They thought they could strike us with impunity and that we would acquiesce,' he said.

'They wanted America to retreat from the world, so that they could impose their ideology of oppression and of hatred. They thought they could strike us with impunity and that we would acquiesce,' he said.

'But the enemies have underestimated our country, they failed to understand the character of our people, and they misread our commander-in-chief.'

In New York, mayor Michael Bloomberg remembered the individuals. 'Each person was someone's son or daughter,' he said in an opening address. 'There is no name for a parent who loses a child,' he said, 'for there are no words to describe this pain.'

The reading of victims' names at the World Trade Center has become a tradition. At last year's ceremony to mark the second anniversary, children of victims read out the long list of names.

On the first anniversary, they were read by relatives.

Many in the crowd carried photographs and flowers as they descended into 'Ground Zero,' the World Trade Center site, from which the remains of many victims have never been recovered. They cried and hugged one another as they floated blossoms in two small reflecting pools designed to symbolise the footprints of the two fallen 110-storey towers.

But in a sign of the amount of time that has passed since the attacks, a new office building was under construction at one side of the site, replacing one of several destroyed three years ago.

Plans for a memorial in downtown Manhattan are mired in legal wrangling and dissension among victims' relatives over what would be appropriate.

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