Obama, Clinton seek black support in US campaign

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WASHINGTON, Sep 28 (Reuters) A day after leading Republican presidential candidates skipped a debate on minority issues, Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton today competed for support from blacks.

Obama, a senator from Illinois, was set to deliver a speech to Howard University's 2007 convocation ceremony in which he was to outline a plan aimed at addressing what he called disparities in the US justice system.

Clinton, a New York senator, participated in an issues forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington.

In excerpts of his speech released by his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to rid President George W Bush's Justice Department of ''ideologues and political cronies'' and put lawyers in who will prosecute civil rights violations, employment discrimination and hate crimes.

Civil rights protests erupted this month in Jena, Louisiana, in the case of the ''Jena 6,'' six teenagers who were charged in an assault on a white schoolmate at Jena High School.

Tens of thousands of black Americans marched in the town and the Jena 6 became a symbol for wider concerns about discrimination against young black males by the US criminal justice system.

''It reminds us of the fact that we have a system that locks away too many young, first-time, non-violent offenders for the better part of their lives, a decision that's not made by a judge in a courtroom, but by politicians in Washington,'' Obama said.

In Baltimore yesterday night, Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson skipped a debate at historically black Morgan State University in Maryland.

Reuters AE DB2051

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