USA ELECTIONS Trump.jpg
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during an election campaign event in Miami, Florida, USA, 16 September 2016.
Photograph: EPA/CRISTOBAL HERRERA

The crowd cheered as a wall was once again toppled at Berlin's famed Brandenburg Gate on Friday. This time, however, the joy came not from a newfound spirit of freedom, but from watching a portrait of Donald Trump fall on its face.

Campaigners from the activist group Avaaz knocked down the 2.5-metre tall barrier with the image of the Republican presidential nominee at its "United to Stop Trump" rally, in a stunt meant to encourage US citizens living abroad to vote in the November election.

US government estimates of the number of its citizens residing overseas range widely, from the Defence Department's 5.6 million to the State Department's 9 million.

What is certain is that the overseas turnout rates in US elections is consistently paltry, often in the single digits.

But, if more expats could be roused to vote, Avaaz argues, it could make the difference in this year's nail-biter contest between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

"There are several parts of Germany's less-than-beautiful history that correspond to a pattern we are seeing right now in the US," said Mason Adair, one of the roughly 100,000 US citizens living in Germany.

"The point is that one of this country's darkest periods did start with a vote," he said, comparing Adolf Hitler's rise to power to a potential Trump election win.

Organizers of the lunch hour event were outfitted with iPads to help register people to vote by absentee ballot and handed out the most American of desserts: chocolate chip cookies.

But the centrepiece was the wall, made out of stacked cardboard boxes to resemble bricks with an angry-looking Trump painted on them. The boxes were removed from the middle, one-by-one, until they collapsed into a heap.

The act invoked Republican president Ronald Reagan's exhortation in 1987, made at the Brandenburg Gate in a still-divided Berlin, for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

Participants were quick to slam one of Trump's signature policies, a promise to build a "tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall" along the more than 3,000-kilometre US-Mexico frontier, which the candidate says will keep Mexican immigrants out.

"The whole point of this is that you can't build walls. It's going to hurt more people than it helps," said Elena Mailander, who is voting in the swing state of Nevada.

"I came here today to show the people of Berlin, the people of Germany, that there are millions of Americans who believe the exact opposite of what they hear Trump say every night on 'Tagesschau'," said Chicago native Ian Wright, referring to a national nightly news programme.

But a 19-year-old Trump backer wearing a "Make America Great Again" T-shirt voiced his dissent from the crowd of Clinton supporters.

Jacob, who was born in Atlanta and left the US for Germany at the age of 4, said that Trump "is the right choice for the country."

"In the last few Obama terms the country has gone to hell," Jacob said, asking that his last name not be used. "Honestly, if Trump wasn't so offensive in his rhetoric, [Clinton] wouldn't stand a chance."

On Wednesday, Avaaz campaigners journeyed through London in an open-top double-decker bus festooned with anti-Trump slogans and red, white and blue bunting, while songs such as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blared from the speakers.

An Avaaz-organized "Stop Trump" rally will be staged in Mexico City on Sunday. The online campaigning group was founded in 2007 and champions causes related to human rights and climate change, among others.

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