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Paris attacks dominate US Democratic debate

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she'd like to see Congress update its military policy against terrorists. The debate started with a moment's silence for the victims of Friday's mass killings in Paris.

Clinton told the audience for the Democrat party's second debate on Saturday that "our prayers are with the people of France tonight."

"But that is not enough," she added. "We need to have a resolve that will bring the world together to root out the kind of radical, Jihadist ideology that motivates organizations like ["Islamic State"] IS."

The former US Secretary of State said the West was not at war with Islam but with violent extremists and called for the US Congress to update its authorization to use military force against terrorists.

Tough talk

Echoing her remarks, fellow contender for the Democratic nomination Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said America would "rid our planet of this barbarous organization." He said too little of the existing U.S. military budget of 557 billion euros ($600 billion) is used to fight "international terrorism."

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said that the US needed "new thinking" and "new leadership" to respond to threats like those posed by the "Islamic State" militant group.

Saturday's debate, in Des Moines, Iowa, came just 24 hours after the deadliest violence on French soil since World War II.

On Friday evening, at least 129 people were killed and 352 injured when seven suicide bombers went on the rampage at six locations in Paris.

All three candidates refused to use the term "radical Islam" during the second debate, a description used by many of their Republican rivals to characterize the ideological beliefs of IS militants and other Islamist extremists.

"I don't think we are at war with Islam...I think we're at war with jihadists," Clinton said.

During the debate, Clinton was forced to defend the Obama administration's initial approach to the rise of IS.

She rejected the notion that she underestimated the militants' determination and instead blamed former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom she said failed to maintain stability.

Voting history scrutinized

As the debate widened to America's overall war on terror, Sanders hit out at Clinton's vote for a resolution to allow the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He described the occupation as "the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States," adding that he didn't think "any sensible person" would have supported the use-of-force resolution.

Referring to the invasion of Iraq, Governor O' Malley said simply toppling dictators was not a suitable foreign policy for the 21st century.

He said Washington wasn't doing enough in countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya to build stable democracies after toppling dictators.

Shifting away from foreign policy, the debate then turned to tax avoidance, where the three leaders agreed that wealthy citizens and corporations should pay more in taxes to benefit the middle class.

Sanders called for a new tax to ensure free public college tuition for all Americans.

Following the debate, CBS news reported that Clinton's remarks were most talked about on social media, at 47 percent.

mm/cmk, jlw (AP, Reuters)

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