At least one person was killed in the US city of Virginia as the protest held by “white nationalists” took a deadly turn on Saturday, reported the US authorities. The incident took place when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters killing one person and leading to a flare up of violence.
The state’s governor blamed neo-Nazis for sparking the unrest in the college town of Charlottesville, where rival groups fought pitched battles using rocks and pepper spray after far-right protesters converged to demonstrate against a plan to remove a statue to a Confederate war hero.
The deceased has been identified as a 32-year-old woman, the police said. Video on social media and international press showed the car hit a large group of counter-protesters, sending some flying into the air.
Federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation into the death.
Two Virginia policeman, involved in the assisting efforts to quell the clashes, also died in a helicopter crash nearby.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, has declared an emergency in Virginia and the white nationalist rally has been halted by the authorities. US President Donald Trump too condemned the violence.
“I have a message to all the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: go home,” McAuliffe told a news conference.
“You are not wanted in this great commonwealth. Shame on you,” he added.
As midnight approached, the streets of Charlottesville had gone quiet.
The clashes highlight how the white supremacist movement has resurfaced under the “alt-right” banner after years in the shadows of mainstream American politics.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump said “many sides” were involved, drawing fire from across the political spectrum for not specifically denouncing the far right. The violence presented Trump with perhaps the first domestic crisis of his young administration.
“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf course.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”
Trump made no reply to a reporter’s shouted question whether he had spoken out strongly enough against white nationalists.
One man from Ohio has been held on the charges relating to the car incident, including second-degree murder, said Martin Kumer, Albemarle Charlottesville’s regional jail superintendent.
The suspect was James Alex Fields, Jr., a 20-year-old white man from Ohio, Kumer said. It was not clear why he was in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia’s flagship campus.
Five people suffered critical injuries and four had serious injuries from the car strike, officials said. A civil rights investigation has been opened into the crash death, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the FBI’s Richmond field office said late on Saturday.
“The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence,” they said in a joint statement.
Prominent Democrats, civil rights activists and some Republicans said it was inexcusable of the president not to denounce white supremacy.
“Mr. President – we must call evil by its name,” Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner wrote on social network Twitter.
“These were white supremacists and this was domestic,” said Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group charged with helping to get Republicans elected to the Senate.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a tweet directed at the president: “Repeat after me, @realDonaldTrump: white supremacy is an affront to American values.”
The confrontation was a stark reminder of the growing political polarization since Trump’s election last year.
“You will not erase us,” chanted a crowd of white nationalists, while counter-protesters carried placards that read: “Nazi go home” and “Smash white supremacy.”
The rally was part of a long debate in the U.S. South over the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the rebel side in the Civil War, which was fought over the issue of slavery.
The violence is the latest clash between far-rightists, some of whom have claimed allegiance to Trump, and the president’s opponents since his January inauguration, when black-clad anti-Trump protesters in Washington smashed windows, torched cars and clashed with police, leading to more than 200 arrests.
About two dozen people were arrested in Charlottesville in July when the Ku Klux Klan rallied against the plan to remove the Lee statue. Torch-wielding white nationalists also demonstrated against the decision in May.
(With inputs fromAgencies)