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Clinton heads to South Carolina and into flag debate

By MARK KUKIS

COLUMBIA, South Carolina, March 29 (UPI) -- President Clinton skirted the edge of the Deep South and the controversy surrounding the confederate colors flying atop South Carolina's capitol dome Wednesday.

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Clinton addressed a dinner benefiting the state Democratic Party and Allen University, a predominantly black school, and briefly touched on the issue, which has drawn national attention since the recent Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.

"As long as the waving symbol of one American's pride is the shameful symbol of another American's pain we still have bridges to cross in our country," Clinton said in remarks alongside Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a long-time opponent of flag's prominent display at the South Carolina State House. "We better go on and get across them."

During the early part of the primary season, South Carolina was a key battleground state, especially for GOP frontrunner George W. Bush after a loss to Sen. John McCain. Neither McCain nor Bush took a firm stance on the flag issue and instead called on South Carolina residents to tackle the resolve the matter as they sought support among the state's conservative voters. Bush also stirred controversy with a campaign stop at South Carolina's Bob Jones University, a predominately white school known for its anti-Catholic rhetoric and long-held ultra-conservative policies, such as a campus ban on interracial dating. The school ended that practice in the aftermath of the national attention brought by Bush's visit.

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Democratic candidates Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley both called for the flag to be removed.

The White House spoke out against the flag at that time. White House officials said Clinton was against the flag because it was first raised in the 1960s as a protest to the burgeoning civil rights movement. Clinton said Confederate regalia had rightful place in history but not as a modern-day symbol of racial division.

Confederate flag proponents say the Civil War-era banner holds historical significance and should not be threatened by fleeting politics. Flag backers and some history buffs fear removal of confederate emblem from the South Carolina State House will lead to the removal of countless Civil War memorials throughout the state.

Clyburn rejects that argument. In a recent speech, he stressed the importance of preserving Confederate memorials and urged South Carolina policymakers to take the flag off the capitol and put it on display in an appropriate historical context.

Meanwhile, in January, the NAACP called for an economic boycott against the tourism industry in South Carolina to force the state to stop flying the Confederate flag.

The NAACP called on members and supporters to boycott South Carolina destinations for vacations, conventions and other social gatherings until the flag is removed. The civil rights organization said black travelers spend some $280 million a year in the state.

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After visiting South Carolina, Clinton is to head to New York for three Democratic National Committee events in Manhattan Thursday in addition to an official function in Queens after an overnight stay at the first couple's Chappaqua home.

Clinton is to return to Washington early Friday.NEWLN:

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