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Republicans debate in US

February 7, 2016

US Republican presidential hopefuls met in the state of New Hampshire on Saturday for the final debate before the primary. Senator Rubio drew several attacks from other candidates who alleged that he was inexperienced.

USA Wahlkampf TV Debatte New Hampshire Republikaner
Image: Reuters/C. Allegri

The nationally televised Republican debate in New Hampshire began minutes after the news of North Korea's rocket launch, and the candidates all responded.

Current frontrunner Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon, said he believed China had "tremendous control" over North Korea, adding that he based his opinion on conversations he had had with bankers and others he's dealt with.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who polls suggest would be the Republicans' best bet as presidential candidate, also said he thought the United States could leverage its relationship with China to keep North Korea in check.

However, Rubio, 44, faced a number of attacks from his rivals, who challenged his readiness to be president. Former federal prosecutor and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, "You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable, you just simply haven't."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, an evangelical who won the Iowa caucuses, also came under withering criticism for controversial political tactics, with one candidate disparaging him for having "Washington ethics" and being willing to test the campaign's legal limits.

Waterboarding in question

Waterboarding came up as an issue, with Trump reiterating that he would bring it back along with "a hell of a lot worse" methods of interrogation for terrorists.

Trump was the most direct in promising to use the controversial technique if elected president, but Cruz said he wouldn't rule out using the tactic, which simulates drowning.

USA Wahlkampf TV Debatte New Hampshire Republikaner - Trump & Rubio
Rubio (r.) is Trump's chief rival in the stateImage: Reuters/C. Allegri

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, meanwhile, said he agreed with the existing ban on waterboarding, while Rubio said it was inappropriate to discuss interrogation tactics.

Differences over immigration

On the subject of immigration, Ohio Governor John Kasich said he "couldn't even imagine" ripping families apart by deporting immigrants living in the country illegally and that doing so did not match American values.

Kasich is at odds with several of his rivals, including Cruz, on the issue of deportation. Cruz said it was possible to deport people living here illegally. The only thing missing, he said, was "political will."

Trump still leads the running going into New Hampshire, although his position has been shaken by a second place showing in the Iowa caucuses. Rubio came in third in Iowa.

The New Hampshire primary will take place on Tuesday, February 9.

av/tj (AP, AFP)