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Empty seats at Trump's rally after teen protest

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Back home: Donald Trump at the White House after returning from his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Back home: Donald Trump at the White House after returning from his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

AP

Back home: Donald Trump at the White House after returning from his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

US President Donald Trump's comeback rally after more than three months away saw him address a far smaller crowd than expected, triggering embarrassing headlines on a night when he also suggested Covid-19 testing should be slowed.

Mr Trump and his team had said earlier in the week that a million ticket requests had been made for his speech in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but on the night just short of 6,200 people turned up, according to the city's fire department.

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 Above right: Supporters at the rally. Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis

Above right: Supporters at the rally. Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis

REUTERS

Above right: Supporters at the rally. Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis

An outdoor overflow stage had been constructed so that Mr Trump could speak to those who failed to get in, but that address was cancelled.

The Trump campaign blamed "radical protesters" and the media for scaring away likely attendees amid fears of clashes and coronavirus spreading in the indoor venue - though there was little evidence of protest groups.

Another potential explanation emerged as it became clear scores of videos had been posted on TikTok, the video sharing social network, of youngsters signing up for tickets and vowing not to turn up, joking that empty seats would look bad for Mr Trump.

There was also speculation that fans of Korean pop music, who have a sizeable presence on social media and have used their numbers to disrupt events critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, could also have pushed up ticket requests. The Trump campaign denied this was a factor.

When the president took to the stage, the higher of two blocks of seating in the BOK Centre was practically empty.

"You are warriors," Mr Trump said at the start of his speech, appearing to acknowledge the turnout issue. "We had some very bad people outside," he added, echoing his campaign's claims.

Andy Little, the public information officer at the Tulsa Fire Department, confirmed that just under 6,200 people attended - about a third of capacity of the venue.

The crowd was still much larger than those drawn by Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, during his primary run earlier this year - a point made by the Trump campaign.

However, it was the gulf between the mass crowds that the president and his team had predicted earlier in the week and the comparatively small numbers that turned up that caused the political embarrassment.

Mr Trump had said that not just the arena but a building next door would be filled up with supporters, saying: "We've never had an empty seat and we certainly won't in Oklahoma."

The campaign denied that TikTok users had duped them, saying all registrations with fake details were weeded out and it had been a first-come-first serve system that had no seat reservations.

But Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez disputed the explanation on Twitter, saying "Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who flooded the Trump campaign w/ fake ticket reservations & tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during Covid."

During the speech, Mr Trump called Covid-19 testing a "double-edged sword" because it can result in high case numbers being registered, saying: "I said to my people 'slow the testing down please'."

A White House official said the president "was obviously kidding", when discussing whether Mr Trump had really asked for slower testing.

Oklahoma has reported a surge in coronavirus cases in recent days, and the state's department of health had warned those attending the event they faced an increased risk of catching the virus.

Mr Trump also referred to coronavirus as "kung flu" during a riff about how many names there were for it, reigniting a row about whether the term was racist given the virus emerged in China.

Elsewhere, Mr Trump proposed jailing people for a year if they burned the American flag, and gave a defence of a clip of him walking slowly down a ramp, which triggered questions about his health.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent