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Boston protests mostly peaceful, Trump praises police and says country will heal

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

After a day of mostly peaceful protest, President Donald Trump told marchers that he applauded them for speaking out against bigotry and hate. But only after he also called out "many anti-police agitators" for their actions.

A right-wing group had planned to protest in Boston Common Saturday, but broke up their rally prematurely as thousands over counterprotestors overwhelmed their event.

Trump praised the Boston Police Department and Mayor Marty Walsh for how they handled a controversial "Free Speech Rally" and thousands-strong counterprotest Saturday.

The counter-protest reportedly drew at least 30,000 people occasionally erupted into confrontation, and almost 30 arrests were made, according to the Boston Globe.

Hours after the sparsely attended rally ended, the Boston Police Twitter feed reported individuals near a "sit-in" protest close to the intersection of Tremon and West were throwing rocks, urine, and other projectiles at officers.

At least one public transit station had been shutdown, according to the Boston Transportation department.

The event was held a week after a white supremacist march and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in bloodshed.

Trump said in a tweet Saturday afternoon that he saw many "anti-police agitators" in coverage of the event and praised the police for looking "tough and smart."

The president went on to thank law enforcement and Boston's mayor for a "great job."

He later tweeted that the "country has been divided for decades," that sometimes protest is necessary in order to "heel" (sic).

He then resent the tweet with the proper spelling of the word "heal."

A law enforcement official told the Associated Press earlier Saturday that there were about 20 arrests, but no serious injuries were reported during the event.

Many counterprotesters still remain in the area, including a few who were among people chanting "Black Lives Matter" who burned a confederate flag, AP reported.

The "Free Speech" rally itself was sparsely attended, according to Boston.com. Barely 20 people were reportedly seen attending the rally in Boston Common, which had a permit to go until 2 p.m.

According to multiple reports, the few "Free Speech" protesters in the park left around 1 p.m. local time, escorted by police. It's unclear if there are other events being held elsewhere in the city.

The "Free Speech Rally" organizers have publicly distanced themselves from the white supremacist groups that marched in Charlottesville last week.

Hundreds of counter-protesters had surrounded the perimeter of the park in downtown Boston during the rally.

Boston's Walsh on Friday had urged counter-protesters to stay away from the event, arguing that their presence would simply draw more attention to the far-right activists. But on Saturday, the mayor was seen walking with the march, and later attended a rally called West Broadway Unity Day in South Boston, according to Boston.com.

Organizers of the "Free Speech" rally had denounced the violence and racist chants of the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protest.

"We are a coalition of libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and independents and we welcome all individuals and organizations from any political affiliations that are willing to peaceably engage in open dialogue about the threats to, and importance of, free speech and civil liberties," the group said on Facebook.

The event's scheduled speakers include Kyle Chapman, a California activist who was arrested at a Berkeley rally earlier this year that turned violent, and Joe Biggs, formerly of the right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.

At least 500 police officers, many on bicycles, were on hand to keep the expected crowd of a few hundred people at the "Free Speech" rally separate from thousands attending a counter-protest by people who believe the event could become a platform for racist propaganda.

Thousands of protesters prepare to march in Boston against a planned 'Free Speech Rally' just one week after the violent 'Unite the Right' rally in Virginia left one woman dead and dozens more injured on August 19, 2017 in Boston, United States.
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Thousands of protesters prepare to march in Boston against a planned 'Free Speech Rally' just one week after the violent 'Unite the Right' rally in Virginia left one woman dead and dozens more injured on August 19, 2017 in Boston, United States.

Authorities planned to close streets to avert car attacks like the deadly one carried out in Charlottesville, Virginia, by a man said to have neo-Nazi sympathies against counter-protesters and a similar spate of attacks by Islamist extremists in Europe, most recently Barcelona.

After Charlottesville's bloody street battles, Boston outlawed weapons of any kind — including sticks used to hold signs — in the protest area and ordered food vendors out of Boston Common, the nation's oldest park.

The violent clashes in Charlottesville, in which one woman was killed in the car rampage, ratcheted up racial tensions already inflamed by white supremacist groups marching more openly in rallies across the United States.

White nationalists had converged in the Southern university city to defend a statue of Robert E. Lee, who led the army of the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War, which ended in 1865.

A growing number of U.S. political leaders have called for statues honoring the Confederacy to be taken down, with civil rights activists charging that they promote racism. Advocates of the statues contend they are a reminder of their heritage.

Last weekend's violence sparked the biggest domestic crisis yet for U.S. President Donald Trump, who provoked ire across the political spectrum for not immediately condemning white nationalists and for praising "very fine people" on both sides of the fight.

Beyond the Boston rally and counter-march, protests are also expected on Saturday in Texas, with the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter holding a rally to remove a "Spirit of the Confederacy" monument from a park and civil rights activists in Dallas planning a rally against white supremacy.

Duke University removed a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a campus chapel early Saturday morning, according to USA Today. Another statue of Lee had been at the center of the Charlottesville protest. The statue at Duke had reportedly been damaged.

"I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university," Price said in a letter, according to USA Today.

—Reuters contributed to this report