Torchlight protest in US draws comparisons to "days of the KKK"

Virginia politicians have condemned a demonstration against the removal of a Confederate monument

Torchlight protest in US draws comparisons to "days of the KKK"

People gather at Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., to protest the plans to remove the monument. Picture by: Allison Wrabel/AP/Press Association Images

Politicians in the US state of Virginia have condemned a protest held over the weekend.

A group of torch-wielding protesters, including white nationalist Richard Spencer, gathered at a Charlottesville park on Saturday to protest the removal of a US Civil War monument.

Charlottesville officials have voted to remove the statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee from the eponymous Lee park - although the city's Daily Progress paper reports that a judge has temporarily blocked the process as legal action over the issue proceeds.

Spencer, a prominent 'alt-right' figure, was among those who gathered with torches to protest against the removal of the statue. The group - which comprised of several dozen people - chanted slogans such as "you will not replace us!" and "Russia is our friend".

An earlier rally had been held at the city's Jackson Park, where there is a statue of another Confederate General - Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The protests drew condemnation across the political divide.

In a statement, Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer said the torchlight protest was "either profoundly ignorant or was designed to instill fear in our minority populations in a way that hearkens back to the days of the KKK".

He added: "Either way, as mayor of this city, I want everyone to know this: we reject this intimidation. We are a welcoming city, but such intolerance is not welcome here."

One candidate for state Governor - Democrat Tom Perriello - hit out at Spencer on Twitter.

In a Facebook post, he added: "This white supremacist hate has no place in my hometown or anywhere in Virginia."

Speaking to The Guardian, Spencer said: "None of the Klan or the National Socialist Party has a monopoly on torches or the beauty of that spectacle of flames at night [...] No one has a monopoly on this aesthetic. It’s a beautiful aesthetic."

Meanwhile, several hundred locals held a counter-protest in the city on Sunday night, holding candles.

A spokesperson for the Charlottesville police told the Daily Progress that three people were arrested during the counter-protest.

It comes amid continuing efforts in the US to remove Confederate symbols, which have intensified in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting carried out by white supremacist Dylann Roof.

Photos discovered after the shooting - which left nine dead - showed Roof posing with the Confederate flag.