Front runner under fire for remarks on Muslims

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to supporters during a rally at the Peabody Opera House on March 11, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaking to supporters during a rally at the Peabody Opera House on March 11, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI • Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump came under fire from his rivals for saying that Muslims hate the United States, at a debate free of the gut-punching attacks of earlier forums.

Mr Trump, who has voiced scepticism about the US military involvement abroad in the past, for the first time said its effort against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants might need between 20,000 and 30,000 US troops, a number similar to what some Republican hawks have proposed.

The debate at the University of Miami on Thursday was crucial, coming days before votes in Florida and Ohio.

Yesterday, Mr Trump won another high-profile endorsement when retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson became the second former Republican candidate after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to support him.

"We buried the hatchet. That was political stuff," said Dr Carson at a joint appearance with Mr Trump during a news conference in Palm Beach, Florida.

Next Tuesday's votes will determine whether Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich get to continue with their increasingly long-shot candidacies.

At Thursday's debate, Mr Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz raised questions about Mr Trump's policy positions but refrained from attacking him personally.

Mr Trump, for his part, used the debate to try to attract establishment Republicans, saying he is generating support from non- Republicans who could help carry the party to victory in the Nov 8 election.

"The Republican Party has a great chance to embrace millions of people that it's never known before... We should seize that opportunity," he said.

But he stuck to positions that many establishment Republicans reject, such as his belief that followers of Islam "hate us".

"We have a serious problem of hate," said Mr Trump, who has proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US.

Earlier, President Barack Obama dismissed suggestions that he had contributed to the partisanship that has given rise to Mr Trump, saying he was not responsible for the Republican party's "crack-up".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Front runner under fire for remarks on Muslims'. Print Edition | Subscribe