Protesters clash in US city on eve of white supremacist rally video

Hundreds of white marchers with blazing torches clashed briefly with counter-protesters on the Charlottesville campus of the University of Virginia on Friday (Saturday NZ Time), the eve of a rally planned by thousands of white nationalists, media said.

The events highlight 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, fought over the issue of slavery.

The marchers chanted as they made their way from Nameless Field through the sprawling campus to the school's Thomas Jefferson statue, where they were met by counter-protesters, an affiliate of NBC news said.

Both groups threw punches and pushed each other as police arrived to break up the clash. A chemical irritant was sprayed into the crowd, NBC29.com reported.

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At least one person was arrested and several on campus were treated for minor injuries, the Daily Progress newspaper said.

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally.
REUTERS

White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally.

"I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus," Mayor Mike Singer said in a statement.

The clash came the night before an estimated 2000 to 6000 people were to attend a Unite the Right rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee from a public park on Saturday (Sunday NZT).

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has said extremist groups have threatened to try and attack rally participants, to express opposition to the statue's removal.

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

​"I want to urge my fellow Virginians, who may consider joining, either in support or opposition to the planned rally, to make alternative plans," McAuliffe said.

The marchers chanted as made their way through the sprawling campus to the school's Thomas Jefferson statue
REUTERS

The marchers chanted as made their way through the sprawling campus to the school's Thomas Jefferson statue

The rally also aimed to protest against Charlottesville's decision to rename downtown Lee Park, now called Emancipation Park, besides the statue removal.

Supporters call such statues racially insensitive, while opponents say Confederate symbols honour Southern heritage, and calls to remove them reflect "empty political correctness".

Lee was a symbol for white people threatened by immigration and "ethnic cleansing", rally organiser and freelance journalist Jason Kessler said in an interview with Pennsylvania's WHLM radio on Thursday (Friday NZT).

City officials had planned to move the event to a larger park beyond downtown, citing safety concerns at the 0.4 hectare Emancipation Park.

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Kessler sued the city, and on Friday night a federal court sided with him. In a subsequent posting on social network Twitter, Kessler said the rally would be held at the downtown park.

Mimi Arbeit, an organiser 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 said by telephone.

 - Reuters

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