Trump praises Pope after US wall row
Friday, 19 February 2016 06:43
Donald TrumpImage copyrightGetty ImagesImage caption Donald Trump leads the polls in South Carolina

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has heaped praise on Pope Francis, hours after the pontiff questioned his Christian faith.

The Pope had said Mr Trump's proposal to build a wall on the US border with Mexico was not Christian, provoking a strong response from the businessman.

But hours later, at a town hall event in South Carolina, the billionaire hotel developer was more conciliatory.

Republican voters in the US state will make their presidential choice in days.

Mr Trump leads the South Carolina polls and he took to a stage in Columbia on Thursday evening to answer questions on national television.

When asked about his row with the Pope, he said he wouldn't describe it as a fight, although he later said he didn't like fighting with him.

Analysis - Jon Sopel, North America editor

Did Mr Trump need to take on the Pope? Well, almost certainly yes.

Because in God-fearing South Carolina, the next state to vote in the primary process - to have the Pope say that he is un-Christian is potentially very damaging.

And over the course of the campaign, the billionaire property developer has been at pains to prove his religious credentials, appearing at rallies with a copy of the Bible that his mother had given him as a child.

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"I have a lot of respect for the Pope. He has a lot of personality and I think he's doing a very good job, he has a lot of energy."

He said the pontiff was misinformed when he criticised the proposed wall, because he was not aware of the drugs coming in and the other security problems that made a strong border a necessity.

Media captionPope Francis: "A person who thinks only about building walls... is not Christian"

Earlier in the day, Pope Francis said "a person who thinks only about building walls... and not of building bridges, is not Christian".

That was roundly condemned by Mr Trump, who issued a statement in which he called the comments "disgraceful".

His anti-immigration stance is a central plank in his campaign - he wants to deport 11 million undocumented migrants and said Muslims should be temporarily barred from coming to the US.

The row with the Pope comes two days before Republicans in South Carolina and Democratic voters in Nevada will choose their presidential candidates.

Mr Trump, who has no political experience but won in New Hampshire, is the clear frontrunner in Saturday's Republican vote.

Image copyrightAFPImage caption Will Trump's row dent his Catholic support?

At the town hall event on Thursday hosted by CNN, Mr Trump backed down from comments made at the weekend when he said President George W Bush lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction before invading Iraq.

Mr Bush's younger brother Jeb Bush is one of Mr Trump's rivals for the White House, but his main threat comes from Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucus.

The Democratic race in Nevada has Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders neck-and-neck.

Mrs Clinton, speaking in Las Vegas on Thursday evening, condemned Mr Trump for his "prejudice and paranoia".

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