Saturday 24 March 2018

One dead as car hits crowd protesting white power march in US

PROTEST: White supremacists carry a Confederate flag. Picture: Reuters
PROTEST: White supremacists carry a Confederate flag. Picture: Reuters

Jonathan Lemire

At least one person died and up to 16 others were injured after a car hit a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, as far-right groups gathered for a rally in the town, forcing city, county and state authorities to declare a state of emergency.

Videos taken at the scene showed a car speeding down a street and into a crowd of people. Eye-witnesses claimed the car had been deliberately driven into crowd but there was no official confirmation of that and the exact nature of the incident was unclear.

Footage taken by Fox News showed damage to two cars and multiple protesters lying on the ground who appeared to need medical attention. The video also showed what appeared to be blood on the bonnet and windshield of one of the vehicles.

Mayor Mike Signer confirmed via Twitter that at least one of those pedestrians died as a result of the incident.

Graphic video showed a grey Dodge Challenger speeding up a side street into the gathered people. Charlottesville police said the driver in question was in custody.

The incident came after violence broke out ahead of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and moved in to disperse the crowds. State police were deployed, with riot police and the National Guard waiting in the wings.

Officials were forced to issue the emergency declaration almost an hour before the rally was scheduled to begin.

Right-wing protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators before the Unite the Right rally. Pepper spray - used, reportedly, by both counter-protesters and those attending the rally - filled the air, according to local media reports. Bottles were thrown and a number of fist fights broke out.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disappointed the white nationalists had descended on his town and blamed President Donald Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

He said: "I'm not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you are seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president."

Mr Trump put out a tweet condemning "violence" and "hate" - although he did not specify that he was talking about the white supremacists, attracting criticism on Twitter.

Initially there was only a small police presence around the groups of protesters.

Earlier in the day apparent militia members were filmed marching through the streets armed with assault rifles and wearing tactical gear. Other demonstrators chanted the Nazi-linked phrase "blood and soil" as they marched.

And on Friday night neo-Nazi protesters brandishing flaming torches descended on the University of Virginia, brawling with counter-protesters and throwing Nazi salutes.

The state's governor Terry McAuliffe said on Friday: "Many of the individuals coming to Charlottesville tomorrow are doing so in order to express viewpoints many people, including me, find abhorrent." He urged people to stay away and "deny those ideas more attention than they deserve".

The clash is the latest in a series of confrontations in Charlottesville, about 100 miles from Washington DC, after it voted to remove the statue of General Lee. Celebrating the Confederate cause is a highly inflammatory issue in the US because the Confederate states supported slavery.


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