US & Canada

Confederate flag 'belongs in a museum', Obama says

A Confederate flag flies outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina in a January 17, 2012 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The shooting in South Carolina has reignited debate over the state's use of the Confederate flag

Barack Obama believes the Confederate flag "belongs in a museum", the White House said amid controversy ignited by Wednesday's shooting in South Carolina.

South Carolina has been criticised for flying the flag - seen by some as a symbol of slavery and racism - on or near its capitol building.

The killing of nine people at an African-American church in the state led to calls for it to be taken down.

Shooting suspect Dylann Roof displayed a version of the flag on his car.

"The president has said before he believes the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, and that is still his position," Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.

The flag is widely recognised as the symbol of the US south during the civil war, when the southern confederate states attempted to break away to prevent the abolition of slavery.

Critics argue that it symbolises the white supremacy advocated by those states at the time. Those who defend the flag say it is an essential part of southern US heritage.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption South Carolina lawmakers reached a deal in 2000 to remove the flag from the capitol building

On social media, calls were renewed to remove the flag from the memorial near the capitol. The hashtag #TakeItDown has been trending on Twitter for the past few days in US.

"The Nazis are responsible for the autobahn & advancing rocket science. Do we fly the Nazi flag to remember that 'heritage'?" tweeted Wendell Pierce, an actor who starred in The Wire and Treme.

The Confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina state building was first flown in 1962 in protest at the growing civil rights movement and has been a source of rancour and controversy in the state ever since.

In 2000, while campaigning for the Republican primary, Senator John McCain, made several conflicting statements over whether he thought the flag should be removed.

"I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary," he eventually admitted. "So I chose to compromise my principles."

Dylann Roof's licence plate

The flag is considered sufficiently offensive to some that the US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday - in a case unrelated to the shooting - that the state of Texas had acted lawfully in rejecting a licence plate design that featured it.

Mr Roof, 21, displayed three different versions of the flag on his own licence plate, on the car he is suspected of driving to the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, just half a mile from Fort Sumter where the first shots of the civil war were fired.

His licence plate also read "Confederate States of America".

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Dylann Roof, 21, is suspected of killing nine people at a Charleston church

Some have criticised South Carolina for not at least flying the flag at half mast, but according to a report in the Washington Post, the Confederate flag is governed by different legislation that makes it much harder to lower or remove.

In a statement on the shooting on Wednesday, Mr Obama paid tribute to the Emanuel AME church and its history.

"Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church," he said. "This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers worked to end slavery.

"This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America," he added.