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President Trump hosts rally in Tulsa in front of smaller than expected crowd
21 June 2020, 09:25
President Trump has held his first campaign rally since the US went into coronavirus lockdown, with a smaller crowd than expected.
Despite the president's claims that more than a million people had requested tickets to the event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the arena was far from full.
Photos from the 19,000 seat Bank of Oklahoma Center show empty seats and small crowds in attendance.
Plans for the president to address an "outside overflow" were also abandoned.
Concerns had previously been raised about the dangers of holding a rally during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the rally on Saturday, it was confirmed that six members of Donald Trump's campaign staff have tested positive for coronavirus before rally.
The campaign's communications director Tim Murtaugh said "quarantine procedures" were immediately initiated and no staff member who tested positive would attend the event.
He said no-one who had immediate contact with those staff members would attend either.
The President addressed the coronavirus pandemic during his almost two hour speech.
Mr Trump said he told officials to slow down Covid-19 testing because so many cases were being detected.
He said: "Here is the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people, you will find more cases," he told the cheering crowd. "So I said 'slow the testing down'. They test and they test."
He has now claimed the comments were "a joke".
He also referred to those in attendance as "warriors" and blamed the media for keeping supporters away.
More than 2.2 million cases of Covid-19 and 119,000 associated deaths have been reported in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Prior to the rally, attendees had to sign a waiver agreeing that Trump would accept no responsibility for illness.
Many of the president's supporters were not wearing masks, despite the recommendation of public health officials. Some had been camped near the venue since early in the week.
In his opening remarks, Mr Trump said there had been "very bad people outside, they were doing bad things".
The president's supporters faced off with protesters shouting "Black Lives Matter" outside the venue.
He also took aim at anti-racism protests and the toppling of statues.
He said" "The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalise our history, desecrate our monuments - our beautiful monuments - tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control. We're not conforming."
Outside the venue, hundreds of demonstrators flooded Tulsa's streets and blocked traffic at times, but police reported just a handful of arrests.
Many of the marchers chanted and some occasionally got into shouting matches with Trump supporters, who outnumbered them and yelled "All lives matter".
Later in the evening, a group of armed men began following the protesters. When the protesters blocked a junction, a man wearing a Trump shirt got out of a truck and spattered them with pepper spray.
When demonstrators approached a National Guard bus that got separated from its caravan, Tulsa police officers fired pepper balls to push back the crowd, said Tulsa police spokesman Captain Richard Meulenberg.
Officers soon left the area as it cleared.