Candlelight vigils held for Jackson

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Small gatherings of Michael Jackson fans held candlelight vigils around the world Saturday to support the pop megastar as he faces allegations of child molestation.

There were rallies from Los Angeles to Toronto to Rome, but each typically drew just a few dozen fans. Vigils were planned over the weekend in more than a dozen cities, and others were to follow in China and Australia.

In Los Angeles, about 25 supporters gathered at Jackson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside Grauman's Chinese Theater.

They chanted "Michael's innocent!" and set candles in the shape of a heart around the star.

Faisal Malik, 29, a Los Angeles fan who helped organize the gathering, said he believes the performer is innocent.

"No other entertainer ever has opened his house so much to people," Malik said in a telephone interview. "True charity comes from the heart."

"He's the most famous person in the world, and they make someone a god and then they try to tear them down," said Arus Tashchyan, 18, of Montebello, who wore a black felt hat and a sequined glove, a style that Jackson made famous.

Jackson surrendered to Santa Barbara County authorities on Thursday after an arrest warrant was issued alleging that he committed lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. Authorities have said they expect to file formal charges sometime after Thanksgiving.

After posting $3 million bail, Jackson flew to Las Vegas, where he had been working on a video. But his attorney, Mark Geragos, told the Los Angeles Times he planned to meet with Jackson at the star's Neverland ranch near Santa Barbara on Saturday.

Geragos, who has said Jackson denies the charges, did not return repeated calls Saturday from The Associated Press.

In Las Vegas, about 25 fans gathered outside the CMX Productions studio, where Jackson had been working on the video.

"It's important for all his fans to come together at a time like this," said Christina Lowhorn, 21, of Las Vegas.

In Paris, about 60 fans gathered on the Champs Elysees and marched through crowds of shoppers to the Arc de Triomphe. They held candles and banners with slogans of support and sang "We Are the World," the 1985 African famine relief anthem written by Jackson and Lionel Richie.

"It's really hard for us," said Pascale Hatot, a 37-year-old fan from the suburbs of Paris. "I haven't been able to sleep or eat for three days."

Supporters in Rome gathered at the foot of the Spanish Steps just after darkness fell. They held candles and a sign in Italian that read: "Michael: Accused but not guilty!"

"There is an interest to see him fall as a man and as an artist," said Fabrizio Basili, a 30-year-old man from Rome who wore a black shirt bearing the image of Jackson's face. "His album 'Number Ones' came out with some of his great hits, and the same day the accusations came and this is why we're suspicious."

In Toronto, about 30 fans huddled over candles as rain and wind swept over the midtown square. A few fans held handmade signs supporting Jackson, some with photos clipped from magazines and "Michael We Love You" in six-inch tall letters.

Some fans felt that Jackson is simply misunderstood.

"Is he creepy, no. Is he eccentric, yes. Different? Absolutely. I think that's what draws me to him," said Evan Williams, 28, who cranked a radio that played Jackson tunes.

Media reports have said Jackson's alleged victim is a 12- or 13-year-old cancer survivor who visited him at Neverland, where the singer was known to hold sleep-overs for children and share his bed with youngsters.

Stuart Backerman, a spokesman for Jackson, said the pop star was feeling "very positive" despite the allegations against him.

"He's fine. He's fighting mad, that's what he is. He's outraged at these allegations. But he is doing fine," Backerman said Saturday.

Backerman said Jackson had received hundreds of supportive e-mails and was buoyed by his fans' loyalty. He added that a Web site,, will be launched as early as Sunday and will have official information from Jackson's camp for the media and fans.

"Michael Jackson has said in the past that his fans are his most precious resource. Clearly, the demonstrations around the world reinforce his long-standing feelings for his fans," Backerman said. "He's grateful."

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