Washington, July 9 (IANS) At least 23 persons were arrested when members of the Ku Klux Klan rallied in the US against charlottesville city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.
Three people were also taken to hospital — two for “heat-related issues” and one for an “alcohol-related issue” — after more than 1,000 protesters on Saturday afternoon hurled insults, water bottles and apple cores in the rally, the New York Times reported.
Around 50 members of the racist Klan — some wearing hooded white robes — shouted “white power” at the Justice Park.
The trouble intensified when the Klan members, who said they came from North Carolina, began to leave and return to their cars after 4 p.m.
City officials said a large group of counter-protesters followed them back to their vehicles and stopped them from leaving.
Asked to step aside, the counter-protesters refused, a city spokeswoman said.
The police declared an unlawful assembly, and officers began moving the protesters back so the Klan members could leave.
As the police returned to Justice Park, “there were a number of incidents, including the use of pepper spray by the crowd”, Miriam Dickler, a city spokeswoman, said in a statement.
The police ordered the crowd to disperse, but the protesters remained entrenched. Dickler said the Virginia State Police then released three canisters of tear gas.
“The crowd immediately dispersed,” she said.
The rally, and the response to it, put the city on edge, and upset some residents who had hoped the event would end without any problems.
“We were just standing there, peaceful, on the sidewalk,” said Candice Maupin, a city resident and one of the counter-protesters. “We heard this boom, and then this green smoke, and our eyes started burning.”
City officials and church leaders had asked residents to stay away from the rally. Concerts and other events were planned to encourage residents to spend the day elsewhere.
Charlottesville has become a flash point in a debate about how cities across the South should reconcile themselves with their past and, specifically, with the Civil War.
The Charlottesville City Council voted narrowly in April to sell the statue of Lee.
But in May, a circuit court judge in the city issued a six-month injunction to halt the removal of the statue after a collection of individuals and groups — including the Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — filed a lawsuit against the city.
Demonstrators led by Richard B. Spencer, a noted white supremacist, marched here in May to protest the city’s plan to remove the statue.
Spencer posted pictures and videos from the gathering that showed demonstrators holding Confederate battle flags and a banner proclaiming, “We will not be replaced.”
Counter-protesters, who chanted “go home”, “black lives matter” and a variety of profanity-laced insults, said it was important for them to confront the Klan because simply ignoring white-supremacist viewpoints could allow such views to proliferate.
Dickler, the city spokeswoman, said another rally by white nationalists has been planned for August 12.