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Trump stance on Charlottesville violence angers Republicans

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Media captionDoes Trump react to some hate crimes faster than others?

Leading figures in Donald Trump’s Republican party have reacted angrily to his latest comments blaming both sides for the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday.

They culminated with a person being killed and many injured when a car hit people opposed to a far-right rally.

Many echoed House Speaker Paul Ryan who said: “White supremacy is repulsive.. There can be no moral ambiguity.”

Mr Trump had condemned white supremacist groups on Monday.

But on Tuesday he reverted to his initial reaction.

The right-wing march had been organised to protest against the proposed removal of a statue of Gen Robert E Lee, who commanded the pro-slavery Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The event drew white supremacy groups.

Violence broke out after they were confronted by anti-fascism groups. A BBC correspondent at the scene described how members of the so-called “alt-right” openly carried rifles and were dressed in full tactical gear. Their leftist rivals threw bottles, rocks and paint. Pepper spray was used by both sides.

Republican outrage rings hollow

Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter

For some top Republicans lately, Donald Trump is He Who Cannot Be Named.

They find it easy to condemn white supremacists and the hate that motivated the violence in Charlottesville, but when it comes time to single the president out for blame – up to and including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – the criticism becomes oblique and the condemnation implied.

Administration officials are treading even more carefully. Chief of Staff John Kelly may have repeatedly winced on Tuesday, but he’s back on the job today. Gary Cohn, the president’s senior-most economic adviser, reportedly told friends he was “disgusted” by the president’s actions – but not so much that he would speak out on the record.

Perhaps some Republicans – with an eye on polls showing his support among the party faithful largely holding strong – are reluctant to draw the ire of a president known to keep close tabs on his friends and foes.

While outrage over the president’s response to Charlottesville has reached a frenzied pitch, storms like this have erupted before and moved on, leaving Mr Trump still standing.

“This too shall pass” isn’t always a balm for the distraught. It can also be a warning.

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Media captionNine statues have been removed since 2016

“I think there is blame on both sides,” Mr Trump told reporters at a tense press conference at Trump Tower in New York.

“You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

“What about the alt-left that came charging… at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? (…) There are two sides to a story,” Mr Trump said in response to one reporter.

He condemned the driver of a car that ploughed into one group of anti-racism protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

But he said that those who had marched in defence of the statue had included “many fine people”; and he asked whether statues of former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson should also be torn down, because they had been slave-owners.

His comments were said to have caught senior White House officials off guard. One official, who was not authorised to speak publicly, told CNN it had been agreed that Mr Trump would talk only about infrastructure, which was the reason for the news conference.

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Media caption“What about the ‘alt-left’,” Trump asked

The Associated Press reported that as Mr Trump spoke, new chief of staff John Kelly barely glanced at the president, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to make eye contact with other top aides, and one young staffer stood with her mouth agape.

Following the news conference, the White House sent a set official talking points to Republican congressmen, urging them to say Mr Trump was “entirely correct” in his latest remarks on Charlottesville, US media have reported.

“Despite the criticism, the President reaffirmed some of our most important Founding principles: We are equal in the eyes of our Creator, equal under the law, and equal under our Constitution,” a bullet point read.

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Image caption What was new chief of staff John Kelly thinking during the news conference?

Mr Trump’s remarks were welcomed by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

But many others strongly condemned the comments.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday it was important to condemn far-right views “wherever we hear them”.

“I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them,” she said.

Of the reactions of some 55 Republican and Democrat politicians collected by the Washington Post, only the spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, Kayleigh McEnany, expressed her support.

Veteran Republican Senator John McCain tweeted: “There is no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry.”

One of Mr Trump’s former rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio sent a series of tweets.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO trade union federation, became the fifth prominent business leader to resign from President Trump’s advisory body, the American Manufacturing Council, over the issue. He said he could not take part “for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism”.

In another development, the response of former President Barack Obama to the violence in Charlottesville has become the most-liked tweet ever.

The message, quoting Nelson Mandela, reads: “No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion.”

It has been “liked” nearly three million times since being posted on Sunday.

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