Thousands of people have rallied in central Florida in support of flying the Confederate flag.

Police estimated 2,000 vehicles, mostly motorcycles and trucks adorned with the Civil War-era flag, took part in Sunday's gathering in Ocala. The event was being held to back a decision by Marion County in that area of central Florida to return the Confederate flag to a display outside its government complex.

The Ocala Star-Banner reports (http://bit.ly/1HXBfeQ) participants wore shirts with phrases including "heritage not hate" and talked of defending Southern traditions.

A replica of the General Lee car from "The Dukes of Hazard" TV show led the procession.

One of the participants, Rick Hart, defended flying the Confederate flag, saying "It's a history thing. The flag is also a military flag. It's not a race symbol."

The Florida rally came weeks after the shooting deaths of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that spurred a national debate about the flying of the Confederate flag. On Friday, South Carolina removed the flag from a flagpole near its Statehouse. The man charged in the Charleston shooting is shown in pictures with the Confederate flag and police say he was motivated by hate.

Meantime, in Congress, lawmakers are debating a measure to block the display of the flag at federal cemeteries.

___

Information from: Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner, http://www.starbanner.com/