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US Republican convention to nominate Trump begins

AFP , Monday 18 Jul 2016
Republican Convention
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaks to the delegates on start of the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo: AFP)

The Republican Party opened its national convention Monday, kicking off a four-day political jamboree that will anoint billionaire Donald Trump as its presidential nominee.

Some 2,000 delegates descended on a tightly secured Cleveland arena where Trump's wife will take center stage later in the day to make a personal pitch to voters that her billionaire husband is the best candidate for the White House.

The tough-talking mogul -- whose rise to lead the Republican White House ticket has been one of the more improbable journeys in American politics -- seeks to unify a party deeply split by months of bitter campaigning and divisive rhetoric.

"This convention will come to order," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told cheering delegates at 1:00 pm (1700 GMT).

Melania Trump, a Slovenian-born former model, has top billing for the opening night of the four-day convention in Cleveland, Ohio, which takes place against a backdrop of fear over racial violence and unrest abroad.

The opening-day theme is "Make America Safe Again" -- a play on Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again."

Priebus swiftly addressed the unrest that has rattled American communities, calling for a moment of silence for officers killed in the line of duty, including those gunned down in two attacks in the past 10 days.

"Before we begin the official business of this convention, I would like to take a moment to recognize the fallen police officers in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and elsewhere," he said.

"We also want to recognize the families who lost loved ones during these troubling times. Our nation grieves when we see these awful killings."

Trump told Fox News early Monday that his wife would be "speaking about her love of the country," adding that he will attend the evening session and may even say a few words -- a sign that the convention will be anything but politics as usual.

"I will be there. I want to watch. It's going to be very exciting," Trump said.

A spate of race-tinged police-involved shootings -- and cop killings, including the fatal shooting of three officers in Louisiana on Sunday -- has put the country on edge.

Deadly attacks overseas, most recently in Nice, and an attempted coup in Turkey, have only stoked an overall sense of instability.

President Barack Obama has urged Americans to temper their words and show stronger common resolve, but Trump is instead highlighting divisions.

"Our country is divided and out of control. The world is watching," Trump tweeted shortly after the Baton Rouge shooting.

Trump has portrayed himself as a sheriff who can fix things.

"We have to bring law and order back to this country, whether we like it or not," he told Fox, as he bemoaned the ragged state of race relations in America.

Trump believes that presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton should be jailed for using a private email server to handle sensitive government documents while serving as secretary of state, something the FBI said was careless but not criminal.

On Monday, Trump will call on retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn and tough-talking Senator Joni Ernst as convention speakers to back up his point.

Of more immediate concern for Trump is a split among Republicans.

The reality TV star's unorthodox style and hard-right message have left the party more divided than it has been in a generation.

After his wife, the candidate's team will send his son and daughters to the convention stage in the coming days in an attempt to humanize The Donald.

Polls show that Trump struggles badly with moderate voters, and his campaign will want to project a more positive image to the general electorate.

But several party luminaries will be absent -- the entire Bush family, Mitt Romney and reportedly even John Kasich, host state Ohio's sitting governor.

Trump's choice of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate could help shore up his position among conservatives, although the real estate billionaire seemed tepid about his decision.

In a remarkable first joint appearance on Saturday, Trump eventually got around to talking about Pence and explained why he was picked, in less-than-enthusiastic terms.

"One of the reasons is party unity -- so many people have said, 'party unity.' Because I'm an outsider."

Pence will address the convention on Wednesday.

Inside the convention arena, it remains to be seen if the "Never Trump" camp will make themselves heard.

Outside, however, law enforcement is bracing for a wave of protests, including on Monday, when demonstrators began gathering downtown and chanting "dump Trump."

As the GOP convention kicked off, Clinton blasted Trump's candidacy as a "threat to our democracy," and accused him of stoking racial and ethnic tensions with his rhetoric.

Trump "plays coy with white supremacists, Donald Trump insults Mexican immigrants," she told the NAACP, America's largest black civil rights organization, at a meeting in Cincinnati.

"Donald Trump cannot become president of the United States," she said, to huge applause.

The Republican convention ends Thursday with a speech from the 70-year-old billionaire real estate mogul. The Democrats stage their own convention next week in Philadelphia.

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