Trump slams protesters as 'left-wing bullies' at Phoenix rally
PHOENIX: US President Donald Trump sought to turn nationwide protests to his political advantage in a campaign appearance in the election swing state of Arizona on Tuesday, vowing to prevent "the left-wing mob" from pushing the United States into chaos.
Mr Trump, whose first rally of the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, drew fewer supporters than expected and was therefore seen as exposing weaknesses in his campaign, pushed a law-and-order theme in Phoenix before a cheering audience of several thousand young people.
Mr Trump pointed to demonstrators who tried to topple a statue of 19th-century US President Andrew Jackson near the White House on Monday night, as well as an "autonomous zone" set up by protesters in Seattle, as reasons to keep him in office rather than electing Democrat Joe Biden on Nov 3.
"It's not the behaviour of a peaceful political movement. It's the behaviour of totalitarians and dictators and people who don't love our country," he said.
'FREE SPEECH ZONE'
Outside the Dream City church where Mr Trump was speaking, the police forcibly dispersed hundreds of protesters marching in an adjacent "free speech zone".
Phoenix police declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly after protesters started blocking a street. Then officers in riot gear used flash-bang grenades - military-style percussion devices for crowd control - to push protesters well away from the church, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.
The city police department said it ordered demonstrators to disperse when the crowd began throwing objects at the police, "blocking traffic and moving into an area protected for the presidential motorcade".
In addition to flash-bang devices, the police also used "pepper balls deployed into the ground and a burst of pepper spray" the department's statement said, adding that no arrests were made.
Mr Trump is under attack from many Americans for his handling of the protests in response to the death of African American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
On Tuesday, Trump said those protesting against racial injustice and police brutality "hate our history. They hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans".
"We don't bow down to left-wing bullies," he said.
Mr Trump, who narrowly won Arizona in 2016, is seeking to defend his foothold in the state as opinion polls showed Mr Biden in the lead.
Earlier, Mr Trump visited a newly built section of the border wall along the frontier with Mexico in San Luis, Arizona, a dusty, barren landscape where the temperature hit 40 deg C.
Using a black pen, he autographed a plaque commemorating the 200th mile of the wall.
A campaign pledge to build a wall along the entire 3,200km US-Mexico border helped propel Mr Trump to the White House in 2016. - REUTERS