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Insults and interruptions mar first Trump-Biden debate

'Will you shut up, man?' Democratic nominee asks US President as rivals talked over each other in chaotic political brawl that made it hard for either candidate to make a point

CLEVELAND President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden battled fiercely over Mr Trump's record on the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare, and the economy in a chaotic and bad-tempered first debate marked by personal insults and Mr Trump's repeated interruptions.

Mr Trump bulldozed his way through the 90-minute debate, trying to goad Mr Biden nearly every time he spoke, claiming that Democrats were trying to steal the November presidential election with mail-in ballots and declining to condemn white supremacist groups when asked to do so.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News never established control of the debate, with Mr Trump repeatedly ignoring his calls to let Mr Biden speak. The two White House contenders talked over each other and lobbed insults in a breathtaking political brawl that made it hard for either to make a point.

At one point, an exasperated Mr Biden said after Mr Trump's repeated interruptions: "Will you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential."

Mr Wallace tried in vain to reel in the president, who ignored his time limits and talked over Mr Biden. Mr Trump, 74, repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to fluster Mr Biden, 77, and force him into a gaffe.

In the first of three scheduled debates, Mr Trump also repeated his unfounded complaints that mail-in ballots would lead to widespread election fraud, and declined to commit to accepting the results of the election or commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.

"If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that," he said. "This is going to be a fraud like you've never seen."

Mr Biden was sharply critical of Mr Trump's record on the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, accusing him of failing to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.

"He panicked or he looked at the stock market," Mr Biden said of Mr Trump.

"You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap and... the golf course and go in the Oval Office and (put) together Democrats and Republicans, and fund what needs to be done now to save lives."

MOCKED

The president brought up Mr Biden's son's struggles with drugs and mocked his opponent's academic performance at the University of Delaware, where according to the Washington Post, Mr Biden graduated 506th in a class of 688.

"He was the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don't ever use the word smart with me," Mr Trump said. "Because you know what, there's nothing smart about you, Joe."

Mr Biden said he was proud of his son Hunter for overcoming addiction.

Mr Trump offered a vigorous defence of his "law and order" approach of recent months, saying Mr Biden lacks the backbone to stand up to violent protesters.

"If he ever got to run the country and they ran it the way he wants to run it, we would have suburbs (that) would be gone, and you would see problems like you have never seen," Mr Trump said.

Mr Biden shot back: "He wouldn't know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn."

NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt said the debate "could have been a low point in political discourse".

Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson wrote on Twitter: "I'm a teacher. I would never in a million years let a classroom turn into this." - REUTERS, AFP

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