Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Obama calls for greater respect, understanding in US

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:26 AM
U.S President Barack Obama, left, and Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy stand following their media availability in Madrid, Spain, at the Palacio de la Moncloa, on Sunday.

MADRID (AP) -- President Barack Obama called Sunday for greater tolerance, respect and understanding from police officers toward the people they take an oath to protect as well as from individuals who think the police are too heavy handed and intolerant, particularly toward people of colour.

"I'd like all sides to listen to each other," Obama said as he answered a reporter's question after meeting with Spain's acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, during his shortened first visit to Spain as president.

It was the fourth straight day that Obama has commented on a series of distressing events back home: the fatal shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and a sniper attack that killed five police officers and wounded seven in Dallas.

He said violence against police by anyone concerned about fairness in the criminal justice system does "a disservice to the cause."

He repeated that the vast majority of U.S. police officers are doing a good job, and rhetoric that portrays them otherwise does little to rally allies to support efforts to change a system broadly recognised as biased against minorities.

"Maintaining a truthful and serious and respectful tone is going to help mobilise American society to bring about real change," Obama said.

The president also called for balance from law enforcement. "I would hope that police organisations are also respectful of the frustrations that people in these communities feel and not just dismiss these protests and these complaints as political correctness," he said.

"It is in the interest of police officers that their communities trust them," Obama said.

The president travelled to Spain after attending a NATO summit in Poland, but the shocking series of events at home late last week dominated most of his public appearances. Spain, nevertheless, appeared thrilled to welcome the first U.S. President to visit in more than a decade. Tourists and curiosity seekers lined some streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of him, and local TV aired wall-to-wall coverage of his movements.

Obama was supposed to spend two days in Spain, but cut the visit to about a day because of the shootings.

"We've had a difficult week in the United States," he told King Felipe VI before they met in private at the Royal Palace.

After meeting with acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Obama lauded the long-standing ties between the U.S. and Spain and complimented economic policies put in place under Rajoy's leadership, saying the changes have begun to "bear fruit." The economy is a top concern of the Spanish public, with nearly 5 million people out of work and the unemployment rate at about 20 percent.

Spain has been gripped by a political stalemate for months, with Rajoy unable to rally the political support he needs to form a new coalition government following a late-June election. It was the country's second round of inconclusive balloting in the past year.

Rajoy's party also won an election in December, but no other major party would help him form a government.

Rajoy thanked Obama for visiting and offered his condolences for the Dallas shooting. He touched on Spain's improving economic outlook and the political crisis, saying that having a third election in less than a year would be "a joke" that would damage the economy.

Obama also thanked Rajoy for his government's contributions as a fellow NATO ally, and for hosting U.S. sailors and guided missile destroyers at a naval base on the southern coast. A visit to the base, including an event with troops, was to be Obama's final stop before the flight to Washington.

Shortly before departing for the base, the White House says he met with leaders from Spain's main opposition parties.

It's taken the White House more than seven years to lock in Spain on Obama's foreign travel schedule. But events beyond his control ended up turning his first and only visit to Spain, the largest European country that had yet to welcome the president, into a rushed one.

Obama originally planned to spend Sunday and Monday in Spain, including a half-day of sightseeing in the south. But he cut it to one day by scrapping the sightseeing and his standard question-and-answer session with young adults.