WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush attended a prayer service and paid silent tribute at the White House in ceremonies Saturday marking the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The president, departing from his practice of taping his weekly radio address, planned a live broadcast from the Oval Office later Saturday morning that was expected to focus on the 2001 terrorist strikes.
Invited to watch the speech were firefighters, emergency responders and relatives of victims of the attacks.
Bush's Sept. 11 observances, similar to how he spent the anniversary last year, began with a service of prayer and remembrance at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House.
``Part of your role is to be chaplain to this nation'' in times of tragedy, the Rev. Luis Leon said during the service as he spoke directly to Bush.
The president, accompanied by first lady Laura Bush, lit candles to open the service. He did not speak.
At 8:46 a.m. EDT, the exact time that American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the Bushes presided over a moment of silence on the South Lawn.
As he did last year, Bush signed proclamations designating Sept. 11 as a national day of prayer and remembrance and as Patriot Day.
Bush's Democratic rival for the White House, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, was attending a memorial in his hometown of Boston.
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Delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address, Kerry applauded the spirit of the country in the days and months after the attacks. ``We are one America in our prayers for those who were taken from us on September 11 and for their families,'' he said. ``And we are one America in our unbending determination to defend our country to find and get the terrorists before they get us.''
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Bush has made the fight against terrorism the focus of his re-election effort.
``This election will also determine how America responds to the continuing danger of terrorism,'' he said Friday in Huntington, W.Va.
Aiming to demonstrate his commitment to keeping the country safe, Bush told his audience he had talked backstage with a rescuer who was working in the rubble of the twin towers three days after the attacks when he visited Ground Zero.
``It's a day I will never forget,'' Bush said. ``I wake up every morning, every morning, thinking about how to better protect our country. I will never relent in defending America, whatever it takes.''
Bush's campaign has aimed to paint Kerry as indecisive in order to plant doubts about his ability to protect the nation and to persuade voters they shouldn't change course in dangerous times.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday found that handling terrorism remains Bush's strongest issue, with 55 percent approving of the job he's done in the anti-terror battle and 43 percent disapproving. He also has a double-digit lead over Kerry on who would do a better job of protecting the country.
And with the government focused on worries about a pre-election attack designed to disrupt the Nov. 2 election or affect its outcome, a separate AP poll found almost four in 10 Americans still fear becoming victims of terrorism.
The only other time Bush has delivered a live radio address was on March 9, 2002, when he spoke from the Rose Garden as part of a ceremony signing an economic stimulus package into law.
Following the Sept. 11 events, Bush planned to spent the weekend at Camp David, Md. Counting his stays at his Texas ranch and his family's home in Maine, he has not spent a full day in the capital since Aug. 2.