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Obama takes dispute with Trump into his final speech to UN

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President Barack Obama railed against political "strongmen" and isolation in a farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, taking his campaign battle with Donald Trump to the podium of the world's foremost international institution.

[WASHINGTON] President Barack Obama railed against political "strongmen" and isolation in a farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, taking his campaign battle with Donald Trump to the podium of the world's foremost international institution.

Mr Obama's speech in New York was a defense of globalism and an attack on authoritarians, tribalists and populists in which he never mentioned the Republican vying to succeed him in office. But the subtext was impossible to miss, and could also be interpreted as a criticism of the UK's decision this year to exit from the European Union.

After extolling the expansion of democracy across the globe and a reduction in extreme poverty, Mr Obama warned of "a crude populism, sometimes from the far left but more often from the far right, which seeks to establish what they think was a better, simpler age free from outside contamination."

"We cannot dismiss these visions," Mr Obama said. "They are powerful. They reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens." But he cautioned: "A country ringed by walls would only imprison itself."

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Mr Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again", harks back to an unspecified period in American history when the Republican believes the US and its economy was stronger and more influential in the world. His core campaign promise is to build a wall on the southern border of the US to stop undocumented immigrants from entering from Mexico.

Seven years after he first appeared before world leaders at the UN to call for a "new era of engagement with the world,'' Mr Obama argued that he had delivered on his pledge.

Last year's Paris agreement to to combat climate change will help to reverse a rise in global temperatures, and the US deal with Iran to roll back the country's nuclear program has reduced the threat of another Mideast war, Mr Obama said. He touted a rapprochement with Cuba, a shift toward democracy in Burma and the stabilisation of the global economy as evidence of US leadership.

Mr Trump has called for a drastic shift from what he has called Mr Obama's "weak'' foreign policy, pledging to limit immigration to the US, torture terrorism suspects and reconsider US alliances.

"Weakness invites aggression,'' Mr Trump said Monday at a rally in Florida. "We're weak.''

Events in the days leading up to Mr Obama's speech shined a spotlight on the lengthy list of global problems that have bedeviled his presidency.

Bombings in New York and New Jersey and a stabbing attack in a Minnesota mall over the weekend showed the potential impact of lone-wolf terrorist attacks, many inspired by Islamic State extremists based in Syria and Iraq.

In Syria, a deal brokered by the US and Russia to institute a cease-fire is unravelling just a week after it began with the promise of allowing humanitarian aid to reach besieged parts of the country.

On Monday, a humanitarian aid convoy was bombed in the city of Aleppo, casting further doubt about whether the pact with Russia would survive. Almost six years into a civil war that has killed at least 280,000 Syrians and displaced millions, US-led efforts to end the fighting have largely failed.

Mr Obama did not address the impending collapse of the cease-fire in his remarks to the General Assembly.

Later on Tuesday, Mr Obama will host a summit aimed at addressing the surge in global refugees. He has called on governments and companies to offer more assistance to the more than 21 million refugees fleeing violence in places like Syria and Afghanistan.

BLOOMBERG

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