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Mount Rushmore: Trump to host 4 July event despite virus concerns

US President Donald Trump will visit Mount Rushmore on Friday night to mark 4 July celebrations in the US, despite concerns over a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

A fireworks display will be held at the South Dakota landmark, which features the carved faces of four US presidents.

Some 7,500 people are expected to attend the pre-Independence Day event.

Mr Trump, who has promised "a tremendous 3 July" is set to give a speech.

Masks will be available but not required, and social distancing will not be strictly enforced.

Mr Trump's visit has raised fears over the potential spread of Covid-19, wildfire worries linked to the fireworks, and protests from Native American groups.

Speaking to Fox News this week, South Dakota's Republican Governor Kristi Noem said free face masks would be available at the outdoor event for people who chose to wear them, but "we won't be social distancing".

"We told those folks that have concerns that they can stay home," she said.

Why is the location controversial?

Activists have long taken issue with the Mount Rushmore monument, which was built on land sacred to the Sioux tribe. Two of the former presidents depicted – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – were slave-owners.

The decision to hold an event there is controversial at a time when statues of Confederate generals and slave-owners are being re-evaluated, and in many cases pulled down, amid anti-racism protests.

Ahead of the event, a group of mostly Native American protesters blocked a main road to the monument with white vans, leading to a tense stand-off with police.

They were eventually cleared from the road by police officers and National Guard soldiers, who used smoke bombs and pepper spray, local reports say.

The vans were towed away and several protesters were arrested after the police declared the road block an "unlawful assembly", local newspaper the Argus Leader reported.

What is Trump expected to say?

Mr Trump will deliver a speech in the shadow of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, whose heads are carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore.

A Trump campaign official said the president, who has condemned the removal of statues by protesters, will rail against people trying to "tear down" the United States.

"The left wing mob and those practicing cancel culture are engaging in totalitarian behaviour that is completely alien to American life – and we must not accept it," the official said, summarising Mr Trump's expected comments.

These will be the first fireworks at Mount Rushmore in over a decade, after a ban was imposed over environmental concerns.

Mr Trump has predicted a "fireworks display like few people have seen" in South Dakota, a state he won in the 2016 US election.

The monument is surrounded by a national forest and some fear the display could set off wildfires in the dry brush, though local officials have said the risk is low.

Friday's event is the latest to be held by President Trump during the coronavirus pandemic, as he attempts to fire up his supporters ahead of November's presidential election.

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