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US House votes to reduce refugees from Syria and Iraq

US lawmakers have moved to make entry more difficult for refugees from Syria and Iraq. Leaders of the Republican Party had called on Congress to pause the resettlement of Syrians in the United States.

The House of Representatives easily passed legislation to boost security screenings for refugees from Syria and Iraq and suspend a program by President Barack Obama to admit 10,000 people fleeing conflict in the next year, defying a veto threat. The bill passed 289 to 137, largely along party lines, although dozens of Obama's fellow Democrats broke with the White House.

"This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry," Paul Ryan, a Republican and the speaker of the House of Representatives, had said on Wednesday. "We think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population," he said.

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Obama under pressure after Paris attacks

The governors of all 31 US states controlled by Republicans have also refused to shelter refugees from Syria. Democrats accuse their rivals of giving in to xenophobia after attacks in Paris last week.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain fate. Should the legislation pass the upper chamber, Obama has pledged to veto it.

The vote comes as the European Union mulls its measures to clamp down on borders.

'Discriminating against Muslims'

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton wants intensified military efforts to defeat the "Islamic State" group, from which Syrians are fleeing, but has ruled out putting US troops on the ground if elected. Outlining her strategy to defeat IS, the Democratic frontrunner and former secretary of state said the United States would need to deepen its current strategy and place more emphasis on coordinating the fight with other nations, especially Arab allies.

"It's time to begin a new phase and intensify and broaden our efforts to smash the would-be caliphate and deny 'Islamic State' control of territory in Iraq and Syria," Clinton said on Thursday. "That starts with a more effective coalition air campaign, with more allied planes, more strikes and a broader target set."

Clinton said the United States would abandon its values and humanitarian obligations by denying entry to Syrians fleeing the group. "Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee, that is just not who we are," she said.

mkg/jil (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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