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Violent clashes erupted between counter-protesters and far-right groups who gathered in the city of Charlottesville for a march on Saturday.
Up to 6,000 people were expected to join the “Unite the Right” rally against plans to remove a statue of a pro-slavery US Civil War general.
The governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe said on Twitter that a state of emergency had been declared in order “to aid state response to violence” at the rally in the city, about 100 miles outside Washington, DC.
The white nationalists are protesting in Charlottesville after it voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee from a city centre park.
He commanded the Confederate forces in the US Civil War of 1861-65.
Supporters of the rally were involved in fighting with counter-demonstrators, with water bottles hurled from both sides and chemical sprays being used.
Men dressed in military-style uniforms were also seen carrying rifles and shields in the area.
Officers fired tear gas and pepper spray against activists and said that arrests have been made and at least two people were injured.
The clashes came after right-wing blogger Jason Kessler planned what he called a “pro-white” rally in protest over Charlottesville’s decision to remove the statue.
There were also fights on Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches.
City officials declared a local emergency shortly after 11am [4pm BST].
The state of emergency allows local authorities to request additional resources if needed, the police department said.
The clashes mark the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city voted earlier this year to remove the statue of Lee from a park.
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.
Mr Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols, but also about free speech and “advocating for white people”.
He said in an interview: “This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do.”
Among those expected to attend the rally are Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and “alt-right” activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.
Officials have been preparing for the rally for months.
Charlottesville mayor Michael Signer said he was disappointed that the white nationalists had come to 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’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”
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