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US protesters rally, vow to defend civil rights

WASHINGTON US civil rights activists vowed to defend hard-fought gains in voting rights and criminal justice during the presidency of Mr Donald Trump, kicking off a week of protests ahead of the Republican's inauguration.

About 2,000 mostly black protesters ignored steady rain to march and rally near Washington's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, as speakers urged them to fight for minority rights and President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, which Mr Trump vowed to dismantle.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, the rally's organiser and a veteran civil rights leader, said Democrats in Congress needed to be sent a simple message: "Get some backbone."

He said: "We march in the driving rain because we want the nation to understand that what has been fought for and gained, that you're going to need more than one election to turn it around."

The rally drew fewer people than organisers had initially expected, but Rev Sharpton said afterwards he was satisfied with the turnout, given the rain and temperatures hovering just above freezing.

"I really didn't think we'd get those kind of numbers," he said in a telephone interview.

Mr Trump's choice of Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, to become attorney general has raised concern among many on the left that Trump could weaken voting rights for minorities and roll back criminal justice reforms.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump lashed out at a prominent civil rights icon and lawmaker who said he is skipping next week's inauguration ceremony because he sees the New York businessman's election as illegitimate.

Mr Trump aimed his latest Twitter blast at longtime congressman John Lewis and the majority-black district in Georgia he represents.

"Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results," Mr Trump said on Twitter.

"All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!" - WIRE SERVICES

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