US President Donald Trump has denounced the removal of “beautiful” Confederate statues amid a heated national debate about US race relations.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” he tweeted.

Mr Trump was criticised for blaming both sides for the violence, but belatedly condemned the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups on Monday.

During a heated news conference on Tuesday he backtracked and again blamed left-wing counter-protesters for the incident, too.

“Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!” Mr Trump continued in a series of tweets on Thursday.  “The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

Relatives of Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate leader Mr Trump mentioned in his Thursday tweets, wrote an open letter to the mayor of Richmond, Virginia, urging him to remove the statue of their great-great-grandfather and all other Confederate statues in town.  “While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” the pair wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.”

Robert E Lee V, the great-great-grandson of the famous Confederate general, issued a statement condemning the violence in the wake of the statue removals.

“While the debate about how we memorialize figures from our past continues, we the descendants of Robert E Lee decry in the strongest terms the misuse of his memory by those advancing a message of intolerance and hate,” he said in a statement to the BBC.  “He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the KKK, or Neo-Nazis.”

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