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Confederate flag dispute sparks dueling rallies in Virginia

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FILE: A Confederate flag flies atop the north end of the South Carolina Statehouse in ColumbiaAP

It will be flag versus flag Saturday near the former capital of the Confederacy, as a heritage group promises to hoist a Confederate battle flag up a 50-foot pole along Interstate 95 and opponents will respond with the Stars and Stripes.

A group called Virginia Flaggers is scheduled to fly the 10-by-15-foot Confederate flag on private property south of Richmond at a location that has yet to be disclosed. A spokeswoman said details would be released later Friday.

Since the group announced its plans in June to raise the flag in Chesterfield County, others said they have gathered nearly 24,000 signatures on an online petition opposing the flag and have urged city residents to fly the American flag. One of them, who sought anonymity, planned to raise a giant flag Saturday afternoon in downtown Richmond.

"You can't stop them from raising their flag, but you can drown it out with better speech: an American flag," said Brian Cannon, 31, a Richmond attorney affiliated with United RVA, which has spearheaded the protest. RVA is a common abbreviation for Richmond, Virginia

The idea, Cannon said, is to inform travelers along the interstate that the flag some view as a symbol of slavery and racism doesn't define Richmond and that the city is moving forward. The Civil War, he added, represents just a sliver of Virginia's history dating to the European settlement of Jamestown in 1607.

"We're encouraging folks to fly an American flag, to blow up social media pages with American flags," Cannon said. "People are just coming together to do this."

Susan Hathaway, founder of Virginia Flaggers, didn't respond to requests for additional information Friday but she has said previously that raising the Confederate flag is intended to honor the area's Confederate heritage and is not meant to offend. "The sole intention of this is to honor our ancestors," she said this summer.

The Confederate flag continues to stir strong responses in the South.

Lexington, a Virginia city rich in Civil War history, banned the flag on city light poles after some residents complained about the display. A federal appeals court upheld that decision this past summer, rejecting an appeal by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

In 1999, the NAACP launched an economic boycott of South Carolina over the Confederate flags that flew atop the Statehouse dome and in the chambers of the House and Senate. A compromise in 2000 moved the flag to a monument outside the Statehouse.

Earlier this year, a Confederate battle flag that hung inside the old North Carolina State Capitol to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War was taken down after civil rights leaders raised concerns.

In Richmond, the removal of a Confederate flag outside a memorial chapel overseen by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art has prompted almost weekly vigils by marchers with Confederate flags.

The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors has said there is little it can do about the planned flag because it will be located on private property.

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