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Obama In Athens: 'Democracy Bigger Than Any One Person'

  • RFE/RL

U.S. President Barack Obama affirmed his faith in democracy and open markets as the best vehicles of freedom and prosperity but warned that governments must do more to assure all their citizens share in the benefits.

Speaking on November 16 in Athens, considered the birthplace of democracy, Obama said that "democracy is bigger than any one person" and added that this quality is what makes democracies stable.

"The next American president and I could not be more different," said Obama, a Democrat whose last foreign trip as president comes on the heels of Republican real-estate mogul Donald Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November 8 U.S. election.

"We have very different points of view," he said. But he added that "citizens must be able to choose their own leaders, even if your candidate doesn't always win, and said his administration would "do everything we can to support the smoothest transition possible, because that's how democracy has to work."

Trump, a political novice whose upset win stunned many around the world and prompted uncertainty in Europe over future U.S. foreign policy, begins his four-year term as U.S. president on January 20.

Speaking after a tour of the Acropolis, Obama expressed "gratitude for all that Greece, this small great world, has given humanity through the ages."

He said that democracy can be "slow, it can be frustrating, it can be hard, it can be messy," but that ultimately it is "better than the alternatives."

Obama, who said a day earlier that Trump's victory was due in part to economic uncertainty, suspicion of elites, and worries about globalization, also said the strength of democracies can only be assured if their citizens do not feel left behind in a rapidly globalizing world.

He said that closer economic and technological integration around the globe has lifted lives and that the world collectively has never been wealthier, better educated, healthier, or less violent than it is today.

But he said that trends over recent decades have also produced tremendous dislocation because jobs and wages can move across borders, countries must compete in a global marketplace, and there is growth in inequalities within and between nations.

"The same forces of globalization and technology and integration that have delivered so much progress, created so much wealth, have also revealed deep fault lines," he said.

He said that there was an impulse among some people to "pull back from a globalized world" and that this is visible in Britain's vote to leave the European Union and in the recent U.S. presidential campaign.

But he said that "given the nature of technology...it is not possible to cut ourselves off from one other" and that "growth comes from innovation that is crossing borders all the time."

Obama said the best hope for human progress remains open markets combined with democracy and human rights but that "the current path of globalization needs a course correction."

"When we see people, global elites, wealthy corporations, seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes, when the rich and powerful appear to game the system and accumulate vast wealth while middle and working class families struggle to make ends meet, this feeds a profound sense of injustice and the feeling that our economies are increasingly unfair," he said.

He said "this inequality now constitutes one of the greatest challenges to our economies and to our democracies" and that governments must be more open and responsive to these concerns.

"In the years and decades ahead, our countries have to make sure the benefits of an integrated global economy are more broadly shared by more people and that the negative impacts are squarely addressed," he said.

Obama, who arrived in Greece on November 15, heads next to Germany, where he will hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He will then travel to Peru for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum before returning to Washington on November 21.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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