AFP - Supporters of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan marched in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday to protest the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, who oversaw Confederate forces in the US Civil War.
The Klan marchers were met by hundreds of jeering counter-protesters in the quiet university town, where the protest by the white power group was authorized by officials in Virginia on free speech grounds.
Dozens of marchers - some carrying Confederate flags, a handful in the distinctive white hood worn by Klan members - paraded past hundreds of people shouting "racists go home!" and other chants.
The two groups were separated by a metal barricade and a phalanx of armed police.
Anti-Klan protesters in Charlottesville got an early start Friday night, throwing red paint on the bronze equestrian statue of the saber-wearing Confederate general. City workers were scrubbing the paint off early Saturday.
The Charlotteville town council had in February decided to remove the Lee statue after years of debate.
However, the removal was put on hold after a judge suspended the town council's narrow decision for six months until a court reviews the case.
"Robert E. Lee has a lot of admirers across the South, partly because Southern education has taught that he was this noble man who was a gentleman and worked very hard after the war for reconciliation," said Kristin Szakos, the town councilor behind the drive to bring down the statue.
"For a lot of people he is also more problematic, especially in the statue where he is depicted in full battle gear, riding against the United States of America," she added.
"We have lots of ways to learn history that aren't giant statues overlooking our downtowns," she said.