Barack Obama used his last foreign tour as president to warn against the rise of divisive politics with the global ascent of what he described as coarse nationalism and tribalism, apparently referring to Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist.

In Athens, a city he repeatedly hailed as the birthplace of democracy, the outgoing leader spoke of the dangers posed by such politics with the stark reminder that not that long ago Europe had been turned into “a bloodbath” because of them.

“I do believe, separate and apart from any particular election or movement, that we are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an us and a them,” he said. “We all know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves and emphasise their differences. The 20 th century was a bloodbath.”

Addressing reporters after talks with Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, Obama sought to distance himself from the diplomatic language he has employed since the election last week of his successor.

Rejecting the idea that he should feel any responsibility for the maverick businessman’s election, the two-time president said he would never apologise for policies that had improved people’s lives and seen their incomes grow.

“I will never apologise for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is going to be defined by what we have in common as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict,” he said.

Acknowledging the anger and fear reflected in Trump’s surprise win, he warned against a return to the forms of racism and bigotry that had divided Americans in years by gone. The politics of division could, he said, lead to countries like the US not fulfilling their potential.

“In the United States, we know what happens when we start dividing ourselves along lines of race or religion or ethnicity. It’s dangerous,” he said in some of the strongest language he has used since Trump’s election.

“Not just for the minority groups that are subjected to that kind of discrimination or, in some cases in the past, violence, but because we don’t then realise our potential as a country when we’re preventing blacks, or Latinos or Asians or gays or women from full participation in the project of building American life.”

Obama, only the fourth president to visit Greece in the nearly 200 years since its foundation as a modern state, had hoped the trip would end on a high note as part of a farewell tour of close European allies.

Instead he spent a large part of his first day in Athens defending his administration’s tenure and emphasising that Washington’s special alliance with its Nato partners would not end overnight when Trump took over.

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