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Gingrich and Romney trade blows

Newt Gingrich cast Mitt Romney as the most anti-immigrant candidate of the four contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in a heated campaign debate in Hispanic-heavy Florida.

"That's simply inexcusable" and "repulsive", the former Massachusetts governor shot back, showing new-found emotion and aggression compared with his earlier debate performances.

"My father was born in Mexico. I'm not anti-immigrant."

Mr Romney quickly added that Mr Gingrich's campaign had stopped running a radio ad that made the "anti-immigrant charge" after Cuban-born Florida Senator Marco Rubio called on him to do so.

Mr Romney said to Mr Gingrich concerning the ad: "I think you should apologise for it."

As for immigration policy, it was difficult to discern their differences. Both men said they want to clamp down in illegal immigration, create programs to make sure jobs go only to legal immigrants and deport some of the 11 million men and women in the United States unlawfully.

The exchange came in the last Republican debate before next Tuesday's Florida primary, which was seen as a key chance for Mr Gingrich to win a big southern state and stagger the momentum of the better organised and funded Romney campaign.

Opinion polls indicate the race is close, with two other contenders, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Representative Ron Paul, trailing far behind.

Mr Romney's strong debate seemed likely to boost his fortunes, setting the stage for a long, gruelling battle for months between the two leading Republicans in more primary states in the run-up to the party's nominating convention this summer.

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