Protesters clash again in Virginia city ahead of white nationalist rally

Agencies | Updated: 2017-08-13 01:41

Protesters clash again in Virginia city ahead of white nationalist rally

A group of counter-protesters march against members of white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, August 12, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

The incident highlights a persistent debate in the US South over the display of the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over the issue of slavery.

Supporters of removing statues such as the one of Robert E. Lee call them racially insensitive, while opponents say such moves reflect "empty political correctness" and that the Confederate symbols honor Southern heritage.

Lee was a symbol for white people threatened by immigration and "ethnic cleansing," blogger Jason Kessler, who organized the rally, said in an interview with Pennsylvania's WHLM radio on Thursday.

More broadly, the confrontation reflects growing political polarization that has intensified since US President Donald Trump's election. The blunt-speaking Republican, who vowed to shake up Washington's political culture, has emboldened both sides of the divide, giving rise to more florid rhetoric and a steady wave of protests.

The Charlottesville clashes started on Friday night when both groups threw punches and pushed each other as police moved in to break up the confrontation. At least one person was arrested on Friday, and several people were treated for minor injuries, the Daily Progress newspaper said.

The National Guard is on standby, with Virginia State Police coordinating security in the city of 45,000, the governor said in a statement on Friday.

City officials had planned to move the event to a larger park beyond downtown, citing safety concerns at the 1-acre (0.4 hectare) Emancipation Park, where the rally was to be held. Kessler sued the city, and on Friday night a federal court sided with him.

Mimi Arbeit, an organizer of the planned counter-protests, rejected Kessler's argument that the rally was about freedom of speech.

"Fascism functions by using the institutions of a democracy towards its own ends," she told Reuters on Friday.


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