Car ploughs through crowd at white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

Car ploughs through crowd at white nationalist rally in Charlottesville

A vehicle has ploughed into a group of people marching peacefully in downtown Charlottesville, as violence escalates after a white nationalist rally in the Virginia city.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and police dressed in riot gear ordered people to disperse after chaotic violent clashes between white nationalists and counter protestors.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a "pro-white" rally to protest the city of Charlottesville's decision to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee from a downtown park.

It is the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city voted earlier this year to remove the statue.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a night-time protest.

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.

President Donald Trump responded to the violent rallies on Twitter, saying there is "no place for this kind of violence in America".

First Lady Melania Trump earlier also expressed her concern, calling for communication without "hate in our hearts".

Mr Kessler said this week the rally was partly about the removal of Confederate symbols but also about free speech and "advocating for white people."

"This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do," he said in an interview.

Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said he was disgusted white nationalists had come to his town and blamed Mr Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

"I'm not going to make any bones about it," he said.

"I place the blame for a lot of what you're seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the President."

Officials have been preparing for the rally for months. Virginia State Police will be assisting local authorities, and a spokesman said the Virginia National Guard "will closely monitor the situation and will be able to rapidly respond and provide additional assistance if needed".

Police instituted road closures around the downtown area, and many businesses in the popular open-air shopping mall opted to close for the day.

Both local hospitals said they had taken precautions to prepare for an influx of patients and had extra staff on call.

AP