WASHINGTON • The Republican front runner for the presidential election, Mr Donald Trump, has called for a "total and complete" shutdown" of entry of Muslims to the United States, prompting Muslims in Asia to dismiss him as a bigot who promoted violence.
Mr Trump's stunning statement on Monday followed last week's mass shooting in California by a Muslim couple believed to have been radicalised by extremists, and landed with a thunderclap just as fellow presidential candidates were contemplating ways to improve national security.
His aides did not specify if the proposal would affect both tourists and immigrants, and whether it would target American Muslims currently abroad.
In a rambling 50-minute speech aboard the USS Yorktown later on Monday, Mr Trump read part of his statement aloud, hardening the tone and saying the halt on Muslims entering the country should remain in place "until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on".
"We have no choice," he said, adding that Islamist radicals want to kill Americans. "It's going to get worse and worse. We're going to have more World Trade Centers," he said, referring to the deadly terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001.
Protesters interrupted his speech at least three times, with a frustrated Mr Trump criticising what he described as poor security at the event. He drew swift condemnation from presidential rivals and the White House, which denounced his call to bar Muslims as "totally contrary" to US values.
"We have, in our Bill of Rights, respect for the freedom of religion," said one of President Barack Obama's top foreign policy aides, Mr Ben Rhodes.
Mrs Hillary Clinton, the main Democratic presidential hopeful, described Mr Trump's comments as "reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive". "You don't get it," she tweeted to him. "This makes us less safe."
Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia yesterday also slammed Mr Trump's call for the ban, with the head of Pakistan's biggest council of Muslim clerics, Mr Tahir Ashrafi, saying the billionaire's remarks promoted violence."If some Muslim leader says there is a war between Christians and Muslims, we condemn him. So why should we not condemn an American if he says that?"
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said his government would not comment on election campaigns in other countries, while adding that his country had made known its position on terrorism.
"As the country with the biggest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia affirms that Islam teaches peace and tolerance," he said. "Acts of terror do not have any relation with any religion or country or race."
Mr Trump has been increasingly virulent in his remarks targeting Muslim Americans since the deadly Paris attacks on Nov 13 allegedly by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and again in the wake of last week's shooting rampage in California which left 14 dead and 21 wounded.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS