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Faced with protests, Trump insists travel curbs not Muslim ban

Washington: An unfazed Donald Trump has insisted his controversial decision to impose travel curbs on people from seven predominantly Islamic countries was “not a Muslim ban” as his White House doubled down to defend the step as a move to avoid a situation that exists in parts of Europe.

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion, this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” the US president said.

To stress his point, Trump added, “There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”

Trump signed the order on Friday imposing an indefinite travel ban on Syrian refugees and a temporary curb on people from six other countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, from entering the US for at least 90 days.

The move has invited criticism and outrage at home and from international leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has slammed the restrictions, saying it was “not justified” to target people based on their background or religion.

French President Francois Hollande too has called for a “firm” response to the Trump administration “which has shown it has its own approach to the problems we all face.”

Germany and France are two major countries in Europe battling the huge influx of refugees escaping the war in Syria. But they have not imposed such travel restrictions.

At home, Trump continued to face protests for the second day as thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the White House and at airports across the US, extending solidarity to those impacted by the travel ban.

The protesters raised slogans, ‘This is what America looks like!’, ‘The people united, will never be divided’ and ‘No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,’ as they waved the American flag and held placards, opposing Trump’s order.

However, the White House said the curbs were aimed at avoiding a situation existing in parts of France, Germany and Belgium today, pointing out the surge in terrorist attacks in European countries.

Despite the global criticism, the Trump administration appears to have held its ground on the decision, saying the US is a sovereign country and it has the “right to develop a system in which we’re selecting immigrants that we think will be able to make positive contributions to US society.”

“The reality, though, is that the situation that exists today in parts of France, in parts of Germany, in Belgium, etcetera, is not a situation we want replicated inside the US,” a senior Trump administration official told reporters on Sunday during a conference call requesting anonymity.

“We don’t want a situation where, 20 to 30 years from now, it’s just like a given thing that on a fairly regular basis there is domestic terror strikes, stores are shut up or that airports have explosive devices planted, or people are mowed down in the street by cars and automobiles and things of that nature,” the official said.

Trump also said his administration will again be issuing visas to all countries once the US is sure it has reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.

“I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as President I will find ways to help all those who are suffering,” he said in a statement.

The US has always been the land of the free and home of the brave, he said. “We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say,” Trump said, adding that his policy is similar to that of his predecessor Barack Obama, who in 2011 banned visas for Iraqi refugees for six months.

Separately, in a series of tweets, Trump slammed senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham for their critical views about his immigration policies.

“The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong they are sadly weak on immigration. The two Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III,” his tweets said.

The two Senators in a joint statement had expressed fear that the executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. “American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies,” they had said.

PTI