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Obama warns ‘democracy itself’ at stake in election – Trump denies sex assault ‘lies,’ faces first lady rebuke

CORRECTION / US President Barack Obama arrives to speak at a Hillary for America campaign event in Cleveland, Ohio, October 14, 2016. Obama warned "democracy itself" is on the ballot in November's presidential election, as White House concern grows about the lasting impact of Republican Donald Trump's campaign. / AFP / JIM WATSON
US President Barack Obama arrives to speak at a Hillary for America campaign event in Cleveland, Ohio, October 14, 2016. Obama warned “democracy itself” is on the ballot in November’s presidential election, as White House concern grows about the lasting impact of Republican Donald Trump’s campaign. -AFP

CLEVELAND/WASHINGTON: Donald Trump savaged the US media for reporting “outright lies” that he groped and forcibly kissed women, as US President Barack Obama warned yesterday that American “democracy itself” is on the ballot and First Lady Michelle Obama blasted the Republican nominee in a powerful tirade.

Just 26 days before the American electorate chooses a successor to her husband on Nov 8, a visibly angry first lady delivered a fiery takedown of the real estate mogul and his “disgraceful” behavior. “Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say, enough is enough,” Mrs Obama told a rally for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. “This has got to stop right now.”

Her husband turned up the heat later yesterday, jetting to the key swing state of Ohio to lash Republicans tight to their sinking ship. The New York mogul came from a “swamp of crazy” that Republicans had cultivated over decades, Barack Obama told the state where Trump has long held a lead but where a poll on Thursday edged Clinton ahead.

Obama warned that American “democracy itself” is on the ballot. He trashed Trump as a dictator-in-the-making, but also voiced concerns about how Trump’s legion of supporters might react to a possible election defeat. “Civility is on the ballot,” Obama told a group of largely young voters in the swing state. “Tolerance is on the ballot,” he continued. “Courtesy is on the ballot. Honesty is on the ballot. Equality is on the ballot. Kindness is on the ballot. All the progress we made in the last eight years is on the ballot,” he said. “Democracy itself is on the ballot right now.”

With an eye on winning back control of Congress, Obama also used the rally in Cleveland to lash Republicans tight to their sinking White House nominee. Clinton is now the favorite to win the presidency, but the balance of the Senate and the House of Representatives is much less clear. “A lot of Republican elected officials have just stood by,” Obama said. “They’ve allowed a lot of crazy talk to just be pumped out again and again.”

But the 70-year-old Trump was defiant, castigating his accusers as “horrible liars” and accusing Clinton of conspiring in a coordinated media attempt to sabotage his campaign. At least six women have accused Trump of making unwanted physical advances in accounts reported by The New York Times, NBC, People Magazine and others, most of them after Trump asserted in Sunday’s debate with Clinton that he had never sexually assaulted a woman.

With his campaign in free-fall and sliding in the polls, Trump pounded the battleground states of Florida and Ohio. “These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false,” Trump told a rally in West Palm Beach. “The attacks are orchestrated by the Clintons and their media allies.” Trump said his lawyers were preparing a lawsuit against The New York Times – which published the accounts of two women who accused him of groping and kissing them – unless the paper retracts the article.

The Times refused to back down. “We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern,” the paper’s assistant general counsel David McCraw wrote in a letter to Trump’s lawyers. The women’s accusations surfaced after a video emerged of Trump boasting in 2005 of groping women with impunity because he was famous, sending the White House race into unprecedented levels of vulgarity.

He apologized and, trying to stem his bleeding in the national polls to the 68-year-old Clinton, downplayed the comments as “locker room talk” – a remark the first lady decried. “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior. And actually bragging about kissing and groping women,” Mrs Obama said during her speech. “No woman deserves to be treated this way. No one deserves this kind of abuse,” she added. “This is not normal. It is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable.”

During an evening rally in Cincinnati, Trump sought to get back on message, blasting Clinton as “corrupt” and repeating his pledge to hire a special prosecutor to investigate her email scandal. In a sinister note Thursday that critics likened to historical slurs against Jews, he charged that Clinton met “in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers”.

The former secretary of state, visiting a campaign field office in San Francisco, briefly addressed the ugliness of the presidential race. “We cannot let this pessimism, this dark and divisive and dangerous vision of America, take hold in anybody’s heart,” she said. “There’s hardly any part of America that he’s not targeted.” – AFP

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