Trump supporters confront counter-protests in Portland, Oregon | Reuters

By Terray Sylvester
| PORTLAND, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. Riot police braced for unrest in downtown Portland on Sunday as supporters and opponents of President Donald Trump faced off in dueling political rallies following racially charged killings that shook Oregon’s largest city.

The midday Trump Free Speech Rally drew hundreds of demonstrators to a public square near City Hall, where a far larger throng of counter-protesters and onlookers massed on three sides of the park. A line of helmeted police officers took up positions between the groups to maintain order.

Protesters from both sides continually shouted chants and epithets at each other, as tempers flared and occasional shoving matches broke out, though police managed to keep the two groups mostly separated and peaceful.

Police reported two arrests within the first two hours of the gathering.

Tensions were already running high in Portland a week after a man who was yelling religious and racial slurs at two teenage girls on a Portland commuter train stabbed three passengers when they intervened, killing two of them.

One of the girls accosted in the incident, which the FBI is investigating as a suspected hate crime, was black, the other was wearing a Muslim head scarf.

Jeremy Christian, a 35-year-old with a prior felony record, was arrested and charged with murder in the May 26 attack, which Trump has condemned as “unacceptable” while saluting the victims for “standing up to hate and intolerance.” [nL1N1IW15B]

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler last week urged federal authorities to rescind a permit for the June 4 pro-Trump rally, saying he worried the protest could inflame passions in the wake of the stabbings.

But the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages the downtown Terry Schrunk Plaza protest site, denied the request, saying the permit was lawfully obtained.

Trump rally organizers also rebuffed Wheeler’s pleas to cancel their demonstration, leading left-wing groups to organize opposing protests.

The Portland Police Bureau, citing “online threats of violence,” vowed a show of force with help from state troopers, county sheriff’s deputies, the FBI and the Federal Protective Service, warning that protesters with weapons would face arrest.

Joey Gibson, an activist with the pro-Trump group Patriot Prayer, told local media he had arranged for private security to accompany his supporters.

Gibson said some of those security personnel would have permits to carry concealed handguns and some were affiliated with militia groups, Portland’s Oregonian newspaper reported.

Anti-Trump activists staged a separate Portland protest on Saturday, part of nationwide “March for Truth” rallies in support of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by Trump’s campaign.

That event, which drew a crowd of about 600, was peaceful and no arrests were reported.

(Reporting in Portland by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and James Dalgleish)

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