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Bush Backs Voting Rights Act Renewal


President Bush wants senators to renew civil rights legislation designed to stop racist voting practices in the American South. Mr. Bush spoke for the first time in his presidency to the annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, nation's largest civil rights organization.

President Bush says Congress should finish work on a 25-year extension of provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which was first passed in 1965 to protect African-American voters in the South.

The House of Representatives has already passed the measure. President Bush called on senators to do the same, so he can sign the extension into law.

Speaking at a convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Mr. Bush said the legislation is needed because racism still lingers in America, nearly 100 years after the group's founding.

"We want a united America that is one nation under God, where every man and child and woman is valued and treated with dignity. We want a hopeful America, where the prosperity and opportunities of our great land reach into every block of every neighborhood," said Mr. Bush.

It was the president's first appearance before the group, having declined their invitation to speak the last five years. In this congressional election year, the president's Republican Party is trying to improve its image among African-Americans, who have voted solidly Democratic for decades.

Mr. Bush spoke of the need to rise above political differences to heal old wounds, and said he understands that many African-Americans distrust his Republican Party.

"I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historic ties with the African-American community," added Mr. Bush. "For too long, my party wrote-off the African-American vote and many African-Americans wrote-off the Republican Party."

Following last year's Hurricane Katrina, many African-American leaders criticized the Republican-led government's slow response to the disaster as racist, because many of those initially left without help were black.

President Bush says he has met several times with NAACP leaders to discuss rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast, and the need to ensure minority participation in that reconstruction.

"We've got a plan and we've got a commitment," he said. "And the commitment is not only to work together, but it's a commitment to the people of the Gulf Coast of the United States to see to it that their lives are better and brighter than before the storm."

A federal review of what went wrong following Hurricane Katrina found a breakdown in communication between federal, state and local officials. It also blamed bureaucratic red tape for delaying help to those affected by the storm.

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