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Inequality greatest threat to democracy

November 16, 2016

US President Obama has said inequality feeds a rising "tribalism" and "nationalism" that breeds suspicion of institutions. Democrac​y, he added, depends on the benefits of globalization being shared more equally.

Griechenland Athen - Barack Obama
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. M. Monsivais

"Democracy is bigger than any one person"

US President Barack Obama chose the birthplace of democracy to say that the benefits of globalization need to be shared more equally if citizens are to maintain faith in democratic institutions.

Speaking in Athens on Wednesday as part of his final foreign tour as president, Obama said forces of globalization had brought great progress but had also contributed to inequality.

The sight of global elites and corporations living by seemingly different rules "feeds a profound sense of injustice and a feeling that our economies are increasingly unfair," he said.

The US president warned that this sense of injustice feeds a rising "tribalism" and "nationalism" that breeds suspicion of democratic institutions and government.

While the president said it was inevitable that some will seek comfort in cutting themselves off from the forces of globalization, he urged citizens to look forward and to foster a prosperous economy and peaceful global ties.

He also called on governments to do more to fight corruption and restore their citizens' trust.

"That is why we have to keep making governments more open and respondent to the daily needs of citizens. People have to know they are being heard," Obama said.

'Democracy bigger than any one person'

Obama sought to offer reassurance following US President-elect Donald Trump's shocking election victory last week.

Obama voices confidence in commitment to NATO

Obama admitted that he and Trump, whom he did not mention by name, "could not be more different." However, he promised that his administration would do all in its power to ensure smoothest possible transitions.

"Democracy depends on a peaceful transition of power, especially when you don't get the results that you want," he said. "Democracy is bigger than any one person."

Towards the end of his speech, Obama commended Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for putting the country on a stronger economic foundation its deep economic crisis. The President said he would continue to urge creditors, even after leaving office, to continue putting Greece on a path towards extended economic recovery.

Obama also praised the European Union for remaining one of the "great political achievements in human history." A prosperous Europe, he said, was crucial to ensuring the well-being of all democratic institutions.

Obama's state visit to Greece was the first leg of his last foreign tour as president. Following the speech, he travels to Berlin, where he will hold high-level talks and a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. Then, on Sunday, he will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Lima, Peru.

Obama officially leaves office on January 20th.

"Democracy is bigger than any one person"

dm/sms (AFP, dpa)