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One dead and dozens hurt as white supremacists clash with anti-fascist campaigners in Virginia

Mayor of Charlottesville blames Donald Trump for inflaming racial tensions; authorities declare a state of emergency and ban 'Unite the Right' rally; two die as police helicopter crashes in unexplained circumstances

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
,Jon Sharman,Rachel Roberts
Saturday 12 August 2017 17:05 BST
White supremacists clash with anti-fascist campaigners ahead of Virginia rally

A 32-year-old woman was killed and dozens of others injured amid violent clashes between white supremacists and anti-fascists ahead of a rally protesting against the removal of a statue to a Confederate general in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A police helicopter also crashed, killing two people, with officials saying this was connected to the events on the ground, although it was unclear in what way.

A state of emergency was announced by the local and state governments with police declaring the "Unite the Right" rally an unlawful assembly and ordering the crowds to disperse. The state police were deployed, with riot police and the National Guard waiting in the wings.

Some of the far-right group members were seen carrying assault rifles and wearing paramilitary clothing, while others had large shields, helmets and gas masks in apparent anticipation of violence ahead of the demonstration against plans to take down the statue to General Robert E Lee from a local park.

The 32-year-old woman was killed when a car crashed at speed into anti-fascist protesters, leaving a crowd of people lying injured on the ground. Police said they had opened a homicide investigation.

Officials said the pilot of the police helicopter that crashed had been killed, along with a passenger. They said the crash was connected to the violence but it was unclear whether this was simply because the officers had been involved in the police operation or because of some other reason.

Police were investigating the cause of the crash, which happened while the aircraft was hovering low over some trees near a golf course.

Hospital officials said a total of at least 41 people had been hurt in the violence, including 26 as a result of the car crash and 15 others from the fighting in the streets. Some were said to have life-threatening injuries.

Graphic video showed a grey Dodge Challenger speeding up a side street into a group of people and crashing into another car.

Charlottesville police confirmed that a suspect, named as James Alex Fields Jr, 20, of Ohio, had been arrested. Officials said he was being held on charges including second-degree murder.

Earlier the two groups of protesters were involved in violent clashes with pepper spray — used, reportedly, by both sides — filling the air, according to local media reports. Bottles were also thrown and a number of fist fights broke out.

The city council voted to allow the police chief to declare a curfew.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, who confirmed one person had been killed, said he was disappointed the white nationalists had descended on his town and blamed Donald Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

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

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. He later blamed hatred "on many sides" for the violence, prompting a furious backlash from some leading Republicans.

Earlier in the day apparent militia members were filmed marching through the streets armed with assault rifles and wearing tactical gear.

Other demonstrators were heard to chant the Nazi-linked phrase "blood and soil" as they passed through the streets.

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 ... 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 was the latest in a series of confrontations after Charlottesville, situated about 100 miles from Washington DC, voted to remove the statue of General Lee.

Celebrating the Confederate cause is a highly inflammatory issue in the US because the southern states supported slavery.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a night-time protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group travelled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.

Charlottesville is normally a quiet university city, and many of those protesting are believed to be from out of town.

“People are angry, they’re scared, they’re hurt, they’re confused,” said the Reverend Seth Wispelwey of the local United Church of Christ.

“White supremacists rallying in our town is an act of violence.”

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report; additional reporting by Ian Johnston

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