NEW YORK -  Donald Trump found himself in the eye of a political storm Wednesday after his stunning remarks on the unrest in Charlottesville , which sparked unease within his own camp and could be a turning point in his already chaotic presidency.

Just about 200 days into his term, the US leader crossed a red line in saying there was “blame on both sides” for the melee, which began when a rally by white supremacists over the removal of a Confederate statue turned violent, as they clashed with counter-protesters. The violent fracas in the Virginia college town ended in tragedy when a 20-year-old suspected Nazi sympathizer, James Fields, plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters, leaving one woman dead and 19 others injured.

Trump’s defiant statements, delivered in a caustic way at Trump Tower and immediately hailed by a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan for their “courage,” left many lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, speechless. US military leaders have been denouncing racism and intolerance since a white supremacist rally in Virginia — with condemnation mounting after President Donald Trump said counter-protesters also were to blame for the violence. On Wednesday morning, General Mark Milley, who is chief of staff of the Army, took to Twitter to reinforce his service’s values.

“The Army doesn’t tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It’s against our Values and everything we’ve stood for since 1775,” Milley wrote.

Marine Commandant General Robert Neller also sent a message after Trump’s comments.

“No place for racial hatred or extremism in @USMC. Our core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment frame the way Marines live and act,” he wrote.

Admiral John Richardson, who heads the Navy, had issued a statement Saturday calling the events in Charlottesville “shameful.” “The Navy will forever stand against intolerance and hatred,” he said.

Many observers were left with the impression that the unscripted Trump of Tuesday was the real Trump - rather than the man who delivered a more measured statement from the White House on Monday in which he firmly denounced racism.

Racism and xenophobia must be countered in the United States as everywhere in the world, UN chief Antonio Guterres said Wednesday in response to a US political firestorm sparked by President Donald Trump .

The US commander-in-chief sparked a furious backlash Tuesday by appearing to put white nationalists and counter-demonstrators on an equal moral footing over weekend violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville , Virginia.

“I do not comment on what presidents say. I affirm principles and the principles I affirm are very clear,” the UN secretary general told reporters when asked for his reaction.

“Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are... poisoning our societies and it is absolutely essential for us all to stand up against them everywhere and every time.”

The UN chief said it was essential to “condemn all forms of irrationality” that undermine tolerance and diversity “be it in the United States or everywhere else in the world. Unfortunately these demons are appealing a little bit everywhere.”

“Whenever necessary I will say whatever I believe is necessary independently of the fact that might be not pleasant for the president of this country or any other country,” he said.

A woman was killed and 19 other people injured in Charlottesville on Saturday when a suspected white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protesters.

“I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said on Tuesday. “You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent.”

 

 

“He has to fix this and Republicans have to speak out. Plain and simple,” Ohio governor John Kasich, who battled Trump for the Republican presidential nomination last year, told NBC’s “Today” show.

“President Trump needs to listen to the people before he takes this presidency in a place that is not acceptable for our country.” Trump’s remarks - made at an impromptu press conference that was expected to focus on infrastructure reforms - put the white supremacists and counter-demonstrators on equal moral ground. “I think there is blame on both sides,” Trump said, as his new chief of staff, former Marine general John Kelly, stood rigidly near him.

“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 continued.

“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.”

He also said there were “very fine people, on both sides.”

“Why are we surprised that a @POTUS, who began his campaign with appeals to bigotry, would give comfort to bigots?” said David Axelrod, a former top aide to Barack Obama.

Some observers noted that for years, Trump fomented a conspiracy theory with racial overtones that Obama was not born in the United States, before making an about-face at the end of his White House campaign.

Trump had suffered a first wave of indignation immediately after Saturday’s events, when critics said his comments were too vague and did not go far enough to denounce neo-Nazis and KKK members at the Charlottesville rally.

Obama, his predecessor, had reacted by tweeting a quote from Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.”

The tweet is now the most “liked” ever sent on the social network, Twitter said Wednesday.

In an editorial, The New York Times said Trump’s behavior “has become distressingly unsurprising.”

“Washington politicians had hoped the recent appointment of John Kelly, a retired Marine general, as his chief of staff would instill some discipline in his chaotic administration,” the paper said.

“But the root of the problem is not the personnel; it is the man at the top.”

 

Iran supreme leader mocks US over Charlottesville

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei joined the international criticism of race-related violence in the United States on Wednesday with a mocking tweet.

“If US has any power, they better manage their country, tackle #WhiteSupremacy rather than meddle in nations’ affairs. #Charlottesville,” Khamenei’s official Twitter feed posted.

Khamenei’s office was responding to the furore in the US over an attack in Charlottesville by a suspected Nazi sympathiser, who ploughed his car into anti-racism protesters, leaving one dead and 19 injured.

US President Donald Trump has raised another huge controversy by saying there was “blame on both sides”.

The deepening divisions in US society have provided ample fodder for the Islamic republic to deflect allegations of human rights abuses in its own country, and turn the criticism back on its traditional enemy.

Earlier, the foreign ministry accused Washington of hypocrisy for its annual report on religious freedom, which was published on Tuesday and sharply criticised Iran.

“It is clear that religious and racial discrimination, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are a widespread and frequent phenomenon among American politicians,” spokesman Bahram Ghasemi hit back on the ministry’s website.

 

 

AFP