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Trump: Both sides to blame in Virginia

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump insisted on Tuesday that left- and right-wing extremists became violent during a weekend rally by white nationalists in Virginia, reigniting a political firestorm over U.S. race relations and his own leadership of a national crisis.

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Trump, who drew sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats for his initial response, reverted on Tuesday to his position that both sides were at fault for the violence, a day after bowing to pressure to explicitly condemn the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

Appearing angry and irritated, the president maintained that his original reaction was based on the facts he had at the time. Blame, he said, belonged on both sides.

“You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now,” Trump said, referring to right- and left-wing protesters.

From there, the back and forth with reporters turned tense.

“Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch,” Trump said of the participants in the deadly protest. “There was a group on this side. You can call them the left … that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”

The violence erupted on Saturday after white nationalists converged in Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally in protest of plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the U.S. Civil War.

Many of the rally participants were seen carrying firearms, sticks and shields. Some also wore helmets. Counter-protesters likewise came equipped with sticks, helmets and shields.

The two sides clashed in scattered street brawls before a car plowed into the rally opponents, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. A 20-year-old Ohio man, James Fields, said to have harbored Nazi sympathies, was charged with murder.

Two state police officers also were killed that day in the fiery crash of the helicopter they were flying in as part of crowd-control operations.

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