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Candidates battle over Confederate flag ahead of S.C. protest

January 17, 2000
Web posted at: 12:12 a.m. EST (0512 GMT)

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- A Confederate flag flying above the South Carolina Statehouse is a growing campaign issue as the state's Republican presidential primary draws closer.

In this story:

Protest set for Monday
Flag issue has hurt other candidates

Thousands of protesters are expected to show their opposition to the flag during a Statehouse demonstration on Monday, organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

To some, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of heritage, honoring those who fought for the Confederate forces during the Civil War. But to others, it's a symbol of slavery.


"I can see how ... it's divisive, to state the obvious," said Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain Sunday on NBC. "I believe it's a symbol of heritage."

Vice President Gore has taken another view. "I think that the flag should be removed from the state *Capitol, Gore said this weekend on "Both Sides with Jesse Jackson." "That's my position and I think that he, Gov. Bush, has avoided taking a position or has ducked the issue."

Not so, said Bush. "I haven't waffled from day one when I've been asked the question," Bush told Wolf Blitzer Sunday on "CNN's Late Edition." "That's a decision for the people of South Carolina to make."

Bush's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Steve Forbes agrees. "What people do with other flags is up to them, as long as Old Glory is on top," Forbes said Sunday on ABC.

Protest set for Monday

Some 20,000 people will have their say Monday, when they are expected to appear at a demonstration against the flag. The event coincides with a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the National Urban League and other civil rights groups are organizing Monday's Statehouse demonstration.

"We are determined to bring that flag down," said Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO of the NAACP, in a statement. "It represents one of the most reprehensible aspects of American history."

Demonstrators will gather at 11 a.m. and march to the steps of the Statehouse, according to NAACP spokeswoman Sheila Douglas. Mfume, a former U.S. congressman, and Hugh Price, a representative of the National Urban League, are to address the crowd at noon.

The NAACP vows to continue a tourism boycott of South Carolina that began January 1 until the flag is removed. The organization estimates that African- Americans spend $280 million on tourism in South Carolina each year.

Flag issue has hurt other candidates

Past efforts to permanently lower the statehouse flag have had severe repercussions. Last year, the Republican governor of South Carolina lost a reelection bid in part because of his call to bring down the flag.

That's why some political analysts have warned that Republicans have the most to lose on this issue.

South Carolina's Republican presidential primary is set for February 19. Democrats hold theirs on March 9.

Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.

VideoCNN's Kelly Wallace finds out why U.S. presidential candidates have one eye on the Confederate battle flag that flies atop the statehouse in South Carolina.
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Monday, January 17, 2000

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