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Crowd chants 'send her back' as Trump renews attack on Ilhan Omar

At first rally since announcing re-election bid, US president steps up criticism of four ethnic minority congresswomen
'These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force of evil,' charged Trump to the cheering crowd (AFP)

A crowd chanted "send her back!" as US President Donald Trump increased his rhetoric against Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, at his first campaign rally since announcing his 2020 re-election bid. 

Trump termed four ethnic minority Democratic congresswomen, including Omar, as un-American as he egged on a sea of supporters in Greenville, North Carolina, saying they should leave the United States if they did not like his policies on issues such as Israel and immigration. 

"Tonight I have a suggestion for the hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down," he said on Wednesday.

"They never have anything good to say. That's why I say: 'Hey, if they don't like it, let them leave. Let them leave'." 

Omar responded on Twitter with a poem from Maya Angelou, the US author and civil rights champion.

"You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I'll rise," she wrote. 

The US president had tweeted over the weekend that the four representatives - who also include Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York - should "go back" to where they came from, even though all are American citizens and three are US-born.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to condemn those remarks as racist.

'Force of evil'

"These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force of evil," charged Trump to the cheering crowd.

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"Send her back!" the spectators roared when Trump cited Ilhan Omar - one of just two Muslim women in Congress.

"The way they speak so badly of our country," Trump told his supporters, decked out in the colours of the US flag and "Make America Great Again" caps. 

"They want to demolish our constitution. Eliminate the values that built this magnificent country."

Trump aimed perhaps his harshest taunts at Ocasio-Cortez, who has likened migrant detention centres at the Mexican border to concentration camps.

"I don't have time to go with three different names. We will call her Cortez," he mocked, to the crowd's delight.

'Most dangerous president in the history of our country'

Senator Bernie Sanders, who vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, condemned Trump's comments, calling him the "most dangerous president in the history of our country". 

Trump's attacks have widely been seen as a bid to rally his right-wing base as the 2020 White House race heats up - at the risk of inflaming racial tensions and deepening partisan divisions in America.

He himself has given credence to the notion, telling reporters he was "enjoying" his battle with the congresswomen "because I have to get the message out to the American people".

While the rhetoric has enraged liberals and Democratic leaders have rallied around their colleagues, just four Republicans voted with the 235 Democrats on Tuesday night to condemn Trump for "racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of colour".

Speaking on Monday, Omar said: "It is time for us to stop allowing this president to make a mockery of our constitution... It is time to impeach the president."

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stood by the resolution condemning Trump's language. "By its definition, those words are racism," she said.

But she told reporters she would rather see ongoing investigations of Trump play out before launching any divisive impeachment effort.

Immigration issue

Pushing back at Democrats, the president - who years ago pushed the "birther" conspiracy that Barack Obama was not born in the US - has insisted he does not "have a racist bone" in his body.

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According to a Wednesday poll from USAToday/Ipsos, two-thirds of respondents disagree, judging that telling minority Americans to "go back to where they came from" is racist.

But initial indications suggest the episode has not hurt Trump's support among Republicans: his approval rating has risen five points to 72 percent, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Continuing to strike a powerful chord, the issue of immigration, which was core to Trump's 2016 campaign when he called for a ban on Muslims entering the US, will be central again in 2020.

A Pew study released on Wednesday showed that 57 percent of Republicans feel America risks "losing our identity as a nation" if it is too open to immigrants, the AFP news agency reported.