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POLITICS

Donald Trump slams Pope for ‘disgusting’ Christian jibe

When Republican frontrunner Donald Trump offered a provocative retort on Thursday to criticism by Pope Francis, it may have been a calculated political move to boost his standing ahead of South Carolina's presidential primary.

Donald Trump slams Pope for 'disgusting' Christian jibe
Donald Trump issued a statement criticizing the Pope on Thursday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP

Two-thirds of South Carolinians are Protestants, with evangelical voters comprising the largest voting block in the state during its Republican primary, which is being held on Saturday.
   
The evangelical faithful are often suspicious of hierarchical authority, and a Pew Institute study in January said liberal Americans have a more favorable view of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church than conservatives.
   
This could serve in Trump's favor when it comes to the spat between him and the pontiff, who triggered the controversy when he said the billionaire real estate mogul is “not a Christian” because he wants to build a wall on the US southern border to keep out illegal immigrants.
   
The remarks led to a torrent of media coverage, even as Francis cautioned his statement by saying he still wanted to see if Trump had made such comments and would “give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Trump's response was swift, stern and par for the course for his campaign, in which he has refused to let a criticism go unchallenged.
   
“For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful,” Trump said in a statement that he read to a campaign crowd in Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
   
Was Trump's biting response a ploy to gain evangelical support some 48 hours before the critical primary?
   
“I don't do it for that reason,” he told Fox News.
   
“With me, I just tell the truth,” he added, stressing that “we need borders, we have to stop illegal immigration. It's killing our country.”
   
A Trump surrogate wasted no time in pointing out the apparent hypocrisy in slamming Trump for wanting to build a wall.
   
“Amazing comments from the Pope – considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls,” Dan Scavino, Trump's director of social media, posted on Twitter.

Careful criticism

The bombshell back-and-forth dominated the campaign Thursday, with rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio wading in carefully to suggest the pope's advice was not entirely welcome.
   
“I don't question anybody's Christianity because I honestly believe that's a relationship you have with your creator,” Bush told reporters.
   
“It only enabled bad behavior when someone from outside our country talks about Donald Trump.”
   
Bush is Catholic, as is fellow Floridian Rubio, and they appeared to send the gentle message that Francis, who had just completed a visit to Mexico, should stick to his role as a religious leader.
   
“I think the Holy Father recognizes or should recognize – and I believe he does – how generous America is,” Rubio said.

“When it comes to accepting both refugees and immigrants, no nation on this planet is more welcoming, more open or more compassionate than the United States,” Rubio added.
   
“Certainly a lot more welcoming in our laws than Mexico is.”
   
In his historic speech before the US Congress last year, the pope urged US lawmakers to mobilize against climate change, take in more refugees and abolish the death penalty – positions opposed by many Republicans.
   
Religious figures rushed to Francis's defense.
   
Catholic League president Bill Donohue told CNN he felt Francis was “set up” by a reporter asking about Trump.
   
“I'll give him the benefit of the doubt,” Donohue said of the pope's remarks.
   
Father Timothy Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference, said the pope was reacting less to Trump himself and more to the gospel's opposition to building barriers.
   
“I think he's attacking an issue more than a person,” Kesicki said on CNN.
   
The ultimate question is whether South Carolina's evangelicals line up behind Trump on Saturday.
   
Senator Ted Cruz narrowly captured Iowa, the first state to vote in the nomination battle, thanks to evangelicals.
   
Reverend Don Flowers of Providence Baptist Church in Charleston told AFP he was “not convinced this year there is going to be an evangelical bloc of voters going to one candidate.”
   
That could spell a clear victory for Trump if he neutralizes Cruz's advantage with religious voters.
   
At the nearby St. Matthew's German Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pastor James Blalock suggested Trump's remarks might have been out of line.
   
“The pope has better credentials to comment about what is Christian and what is not than Donald Trump,” Blalock said.

ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

An Italian centre-left election pact broke down on Sunday just days after it was formed, leaving the path to power clear for the hard-right coalition.

Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

The alliance between Italian centre-left parties was left in disarray on Sunday night, potentially meaning a landslide victory for the hard-right coalition at early general elections in September.

The leader of the centrist Azione party withdrew support for the left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party (PD) just five days after the two joined forces, saying it could not work with left-wingers brought in to boost the alliance.

Carlo Calenda, leader of Azione, withdrew his support on Sunday after PD made another pact with smaller left-wing parties including the radical Sinistra Italiana, and new green party Europa Verde.

“You cannot explain (to voters) that to defend the constitution you make a pact with people you know you will never govern with,” Calenda told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The news was greeted with jubilation by hard-right League leader Matteo Salvini, who tweeted: “On the left chaos and everyone against everyone!”

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the neofascist Brothers of Italy party (FdI) mocked a “new twist in the soap opera of the centre-left.”

READ ALSO: Italy to choose ‘Europe or nationalism’ at election, says PD leader

Analyists predict the centre-left split could hand the right-wing bloc a landslide victory at the election on September 25th, with Meloni tipped to become Italy’s first female prime minister.

Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni has a strong alliance with Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Letta is struggling to bring together the disparate  progressive parties.

The PD is neck and neck with Brothers of Italy in the latest opinion polls, but even in partnership with Azione, the group most recently polled at 33.6 percent, compared with 46.4 percent for the right.

Political commentators said the only hope PD has now of posing a credible threat to the right-wing alliance would be by partnering with the Five Star Movement.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

However, Letta has repeatedly said this is out of the question, as he blames M5S for triggering the political crisis that brought down Mario Draghi’s broad coalition government.

“Either PD eats its hat and seeks alliance with M5S to defeat the right-wing coalition, or it’s hard to see how the right can possibly lose the forthcoming election,” Dr Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey in England, tweeted on Sunday.

Early elections were called after Draghi resigned in late July. His government currently remains in place in a caretaker role.

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