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Obama blasts ‘politics of division’ on return to campaign trail

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Former President Barack Obama, back on the campaign trail on Thursday for the first time since he left the White House, called on voters to reject a growing “politics of division” that he said was corroding American democracy.

Without mentioning Republican President Donald Trump by name, Obama told campaign rallies in New Jersey and Virginia that voters could send a powerful message about the type of politics they want by backing Democrats in Nov. 7 elections in the two states.

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“What we can’t have is the same old politics of division that we have seen so many times before, that dates back centuries,” Obama told a cheering crowd in Newark, New Jersey, that chanted: “Four more years.”

“Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back,” Obama said. “It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

At a later stop in Richmond, Virginia, Obama said modern politics increasingly did not reflect basic American values of inclusiveness and were driving people away from the process.

“We’ve got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage. Sometimes that feels frustrating,” Obama said.

Many of Obama’s comments appeared to be thinly veiled swipes at Trump, whose combative style and inflammatory rhetoric have led to frequent controversy and stoked political tensions.

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Obama made the remarks just hours after former President George W. Bush, a Republican, also took an indirect swing at Trump with a speech decrying “bullying and prejudice” while defending immigrants and trade.

Obama’s appearances were aimed at driving up Democratic turnout in New Jersey and Virginia, the only two states holding elections for governor this year. Democrats hope Obama can bring some of the young, minority and infrequent voters who powered his two elections to the White House out to the polls in off-year elections.

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The two contests will be closely watched to see if Democrats can convert the grassroots resistance to Trump into electoral wins after falling short earlier this year in four competitive special congressional elections.

The governor’s races, and a special election in December for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, could offer clues to the national political mood ahead of next year’s congressional elections, when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the Senate’s 100 seats will be up for grabs. Republicans currently control both chambers.

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Since leaving the White House in January, Obama has frequently been forced to defend his record as Trump and Republicans have tried to gut his signature healthcare law and roll back his immigration and environmental policies.

While he has rarely spoken out about politics in the past nine months, Obama said it was critical that supporters get their friends and families to vote.

In Newark, he said no one should assume victory just because opinion polls show Phil Murphy, a former investment banker and U.S. ambassador to Germany, has a comfortable lead on Republican opponent Kim Guadagno, the state’s lieutenant governor.

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“I don’t know if you all noticed that, but you can’t take any election for granted,” he said in a reference to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss last year in the presidential race.

In the political battleground of Virginia, polls show a close contest between Democrat Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, and Republican Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman who has been endorsed by Trump.

Obama carried Virginia in both 2008 and 2012, and Democrat Hillary Clinton won the state over Trump by 5 percentage points in 2016.

(Reporting by John Whitesides in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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‘America First’ vs ‘Make in India’ as Modi hosts Trump

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Trade ties between the United States and India have long been problematic but under "America First" President Donald Trump and "Make in India" Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have worsened.

While eclipsed by his trade war with China, Trump's tussle with India, and New Delhi's prickly reaction, has made a major pact unlikely during the American president's visit to the world's fifth-largest economy from Monday.

"They've been hitting us very, very hard for many, many years," Trump said of India ahead of the 36-hour trip to Ahmedabad, Agra and New Delhi accompanied by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.

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Chinese restaurants starved for cash as virus hits industry

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It is lunch time in Beijing, but the only diner in Cindy's Cafe is an employee having a staff meal -- it has been closed for more than three weeks as China battles a deadly virus epidemic.

Restaurants are taking a huge hit as many people across the country of 1.4 billion have been either under some form of quarantine or are reluctant to venture outside since late January over fears of contagion.

At Cindy's Cafe in Beijing's Roosevelt Plaza, dine-in revenue has fallen to zero, and relying on deliveries hardly makes up the shortfall, said manager Cai Yaoyang.

"On a good day in the past, we could earn over 1,000 yuan ($143) a day from deliveries," Cai told AFP. "Now, it's just around 200 to 300 yuan a day. The impact is especially big."

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Rio carnival gets political in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro kicks off its annual carnival parades Sunday, the first of two nights of glittering, over-the-top spectacle set to pack a heavy dose of political commentary on Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Vying for the title of carnival champions, the city's 13 top samba schools will have one hour each to wow spectators and judges with elaborate shows flush with scantily clad dancers, small armies of drummers and floats built on seemingly impossible feats of engineering.

The event is shaping up to be especially political after a year under Bolsonaro, who has deeply divided Brazil with his attacks on just about every cause close to the carnival community's heart: diversity, homosexuality, environmentalism, the arts.

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