Marshalltown, Iowa: US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has withdrawn from a debate with party rivals this week out of anger at host Fox News insisting on keeping anchor Megyn Kelly for the last encounter before the primaries get officially started this weekend.
Complaining that "the Republicans go on forever and ever and ever with debates", Mr Trump justified his snub with "it's time that somebody plays grown up".
Donald Trump withdraws from Iowa debate
Republican Donald Trump bows out of the final GOP debate in Iowa, blaming Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly for his decision.
Mr Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told reporters after a combative news conference held by the candidate that Mr Trump would definitely not be participating in the debate scheduled for Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, and co-hosted by Google.
During the news conference before he addressed a large crowd in Marshalltown, Mr Trump expressed irritation that Fox News planned to leave in place as a moderator the anchor Megyn Kelly, whose questioning of Mr Trump at a debate last August angered him. At the time, he suggested Kelly was tough on him because she had her period.
He also expressed displeasure at a Fox News statement on Monday night saying he would have to learn sooner or later that "he doesn't get to pick the journalists" and that "we're very surprised he's willing to show that much fear about being questioned by Megyn Kelly".
"I was all set to do the debate, I came here to do the debate. When they sent out the wise-guy press release done by some PR person along with [Fox News Chairman] Roger Ailes, I said: 'Bye bye, OK'.
"Let's see how much money Fox makes without me in the debate," he added.
The debate is scheduled for just days before Iowa's caucuses, the first nominating contest for the November 8 presidential election.
In the Democratic contest, news channel MSNBC and the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper sketched out plans to host a debate in New Hampshire among front-runner Hillary Clinton and challengers Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley, a few days before the state's primary election on February 9.
But the Democratic National Committee raised doubts about whether it would proceed, saying in a statement it had no plans to sanction the debate. It left open the question of whether it would punish any participants by excluding them from the remaining two sanctioned ones.
Spokesmen for Clinton, the former secretary of state who leads most polls, and O'Malley, a former Maryland governor, said their candidates would be happy to take part, at least in theory. The New York Times quoted the campaign manager for Sanders as saying the Vermont senator would sit out the unsanctioned debate.
Trump's blunt-spoken candidacy has boosted ratings for the Republican presidential debates. The August debate on Fox News drew 24 million viewers, a record for a presidential primary debate and the highest non-sports telecast in cable TV history.
His boycott will leave Thursday's debate without the leader in the crowded Republican field not only in Iowa but nationally. Ahead of Iowa's caucuses next Monday, Mr Trump leads in the polls over Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whom Mr Trump dismissed as a "nasty guy" who "nobody likes".
A boycott could prove risky for Mr Trump as Iowa Republicans seek to take one more look at who they want as their presidential candidate. Rivals like Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson could reap the benefits.
But Mr Trump, a billionaire businessman and former reality TV star said he would hold a competing event to raise money for US military veterans.
"How many debates do you have to do?" he asked reporters. "The Democrats are finished with their debates ... The Republicans go on forever and ever and ever with debates. We have people on the stand who have zero [percentage points in the poll], who have one, who have nothing. So it's time that somebody plays grown up."
Mr Trump has been engaged in a public spat with Fox News since the network hosted the first debate and Kelly asked Trump about his treatment of women, prompting a stream of insults from the candidate.
Earlier Mr Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin after a British public inquiry found the Russian President "probably" approved the assassination of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London.
He told Fox Business he had seen "no evidence" of Mr Putin's involvement, adding: "They say a lot of things about me that are untrue too.
"But in all fairness to Putin – and I'm not saying this because he says, 'Trump is brilliant and leading everybody' – the fact is that he hasn't been convicted of anything. Some people say he absolutely didn't do it."
At the news conference on Tuesday, Mr Trump was introduced by Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has sought tougher measures against illegal immigrants. Mr Trump has declared he'd take a tough stance on immigration.
"Everything I believe in, he's doing and he's going to do it as president," said Mr Arpaio.
Mr Trump, pressed on his plans to build a wall along the US-Mexican border and deport many illegal immigrants, defended his proposal and said he would be able to persuade the US Congress to go along with his plan.
At his campaign event in Marshalltown, he expressed confidence in his position in the race, saying if he were to win Iowa, he could "run the table" and roll up subsequent victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond.
"Iowa is very important. So you've got to get out, you've got to get out and caucus," he told his supporters.