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BERLIN – Around the world, countries have long struggled with questions about flags similar to those faced by South Carolina, which is under pressure to remove a Confederate flag from its statehouse in the wake of the shootings that killed nine people at a historic black church.
Here's a look at other flag controversies that have stirred strong emotions worldwide:
GERMANY: With the defeat of Adolf Hitler in 1945, the Nazi's scarlet flag with a black swastika was banned in Germany and remains so today. The banner once hung from all official buildings in the Third Reich, was waved madly by the cheering crowds that supported Hitler and the Nazis, and was an integral part of military and other uniforms. Synonymous with the genocidal policies of the Nazis, the flag, the swastika and all other such symbols are illegal to display today, but remain favorites of neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists, both inside Germany and around the world. After the war, the swastika was chiseled out of the talons of the stylized stone eagle that featured on many Nazi buildings, but today there is now a debate about whether the bird itself should go as well.
MIDDLE EAST: In the Middle East, the Islamic State group has co-opted the centuries-old "Black Banner" to use as its standard. It carries the message in Arabic: "There is no god but God; the Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of God," which has been adopted and manipulated by many jihadis who claim to be enforcing God's law. As Kurds in northern Iraq reclaim territory taken by the Islamic State group, they have been increasingly assertive in flying their own red, white and green flag rather than that of the Iraqi government, creating tension among Arabs living in Kurdish territory.
SOUTH AFRICA AND RHODESIA: Dylann Roof, the alleged South Carolina shooter, posted a picture of himself wearing a jacket with the flags of the now-defunct white-supremacist regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia, which is today Zimbabwe. Before 2000, small groups of whites in Zimbabwe continued to run exclusive clubs where the Rhodesian flag was flown but since the anti-white wave that came in conjunction with the country's land reform program, it is not to be seen anywhere. The flag of today's South Africa was designed in a spirit of reconciliation that aimed to unite the country's racial groups after a protracted period of conflict. Introduced in 1994, when South Africa held its first all-race elections, the flag contains black, green and yellow, colors associated with one of the main emblems of the independence struggle. It also includes colors associated with flags from the time of white domination, including red and white.
CYPRUS: In the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the flag, a red crescent and star between two red stripes on a white background, is seen by many as symbolizing their wish for separate statehood from the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. Many in the Greek south, however, see the flag as a provocative symbol of an illegal state — and they're rankled most by a massive painting of it on the side of the Pentadaktylos mountain range next to an inscription reading, "What joy it is for he or she who says 'I am a Turk.'" Completed after Turkish Cypriots declared independence in 1983, the flag also lights up at night and can been seen from the other side of the border.
SPAIN: Some Spaniards still harbor deep divisions dating from the country's 1936-1939 Civil War and use flags of that era to show support for the political ideals espoused by the war's opposing sides. Extreme right-wing Spaniards protest while waving flags with Spain's red-and-yellow colors emblazoned with a black eagle used by the regime of fascist dictator Francisco Franco. And leftists wave the red, yellow and purple flag of the Second Spanish Republic. Troops under Franco rose up against the elected Republican government. He ruled until his death in 1975.
IRELAND: The flying of rival British and Irish flags has triggered street clashes for decades in Northern Ireland and continues to deepen divisions today. Both the British Protestant and Irish Catholic sides of the community stake their competing claims to turf using flags: for Catholics the green, white and orange tricolor of the Republic of Ireland, and for Protestants, the red, white and blue Union Jack of the United Kingdom. Each summer, thousands of Irish tricolors and Union Jacks are erected in displays considered provocative to the other side's residents living nearby. Some of Northern Ireland's most intense and protracted rioting this decade was in response to the fate of a single British flag. After Belfast City Council narrowly voted in December 2012 to restrict the flying of the British flag at City Hall, a century-old practice, furious Protestants poured onto the streets to demand the return of the Union Jack's year-round display. Mobs blocked roads, attacked politicians' offices and homes, and fought running street battles with police. Two months of violence left more than 200 injured.
GREAT BRITAIN: In England, the national flag — the red-on-white cross of St. George — has had an image makeover in recent years. It was long shunned by liberal-minded Britons, regarded as the preserve of right-wing "Little Englanders" mired in nostalgia and a mistrust of foreigners. It was reclaimed partly as the flag of the England cricket, soccer and rugby teams, and partly as the standard of a new kind of non-toxic civic nationalism. It now flies from government buildings on April 23, St. George's Day, which is increasingly celebrated after years of being ignored. But for many it remains a powerful symbol, associated with working-class nationalist sentiment. Last year, Labour lawmaker Emily Thornberry was forced to resign from a political post after she tweeted a picture of a house and van festooned with St. George's flags. Newspapers mocked her and Prime Minister David Cameron accused her of sneering "at people who work hard, who are patriotic and who love their country."
BALKANS: Last October, a European Championship soccer qualifying match between Serbia and Albania was suspended in Belgrade after a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist flag flew over the pitch, igniting clashes between players and fans. The banner included a map of "Greater Albania" that would comprise large chunks of neighboring states, including Serbia. A Serbian player pulled the banner down and Albanian players tried to protect it. In the resulting disorder, Serbian fans attacked Albanian players. Historic tensions between the countries were fueled by Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian-dominated region that declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
NEW ZEALAND, FIJI AND CANADA: The British Union Flag, or Union Jack, was once a part of many flags in countries that were once part of the British Empire, but is now only incorporated into a few. In 1965, Canada dropped the national Red Ensign flag, which had a Union Jack in the corner, in favor of today's distinctive red and white Maple Leaf after years of heated debate.
New Zealand is holding a referendum next year on whether to change its flag, which features the Southern Cross constellation with the Union Jack in the top left corner. Some critics view the flag as an unwanted relic from a colonial past and too similar to the flag of neighboring Australia — which has no plans to drop the Union Jack from its banner. Others, including many combat veterans, remain deeply attached to it. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has said he believes "this is the right time for New Zealanders to consider changing the design to one that better reflects our status as a modern, independent nation."
The Pacific Island nation of Fiji is also preparing to remove the Union Jack from its flag, after the prime minister said it needs something that represents its future and not its colonial past.