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'Donald Trump is trying to start a civil war,' warns former US Labor Secretary

Lucy Pasha-Robinson

Donald Trump is "trying to start a civil war", a former US Labor Secretary has claimed in the wake of the US President's inflammatory comments on the Charlottesville attacks.

Robert Reich accused Mr Trump of licensing violence as a "political strategy" and quietly inciting a conflict between his core base of white, socially conservative voters and everyone else.

It comes just hours after the former real estate mogul blamed "both sides" for the deadly violence in Virginia over the weekend in a historic press conference that drew condemnation from around the world.

Mr Trump attacked the "alt-left" on Tuesday night, telling reporters those who came "charging" at demonstrators should share a part of the blame.

But Mr Reich said Mr Trump's refusal to "denounce hateful violence" has always been part of his political strategy.

"Trump’s goal has never been to promote guns or white supremacy or to fuel attacks on the press and the left. These may be means, but the goal has been to build and fortify his power. And keep him in power even if it’s found that he colluded with Russia to get power," he wrote in an op-ed column on his website.

Mr Reich also blamed Steve Bannon - the White House chief strategist and former chair of Breitbart news - for "encouraging" division among the general public and in the President's closest circles.

"A smaller version of the civil war extends even into the White House, where Bannon and his protégés are doing battle with leveler heads," he said.

"Let’s hope the leveler heads win the civil war in the White House. Let’s pray the leveler heads in our society prevent the civil war Trump and Bannon want to instigate in America."

The Virginia violence was sparked by clashes between those opposed to the removal of a statue from a local park of Civil War Confederate General Robert E Lee and counter-protesters.

The rally was the largest assembly of white nationalist groups in over a decade and saw brawls between people holding KKK banners and confederate flags, and groups of anti-fascist counter protestors spill onto the streets.

Mr Trump's slow response to the demonstrations was condemned in the immediate aftermath, after he spoke out against "violence on many sides" - despite white nationalist James Fields allegedly ploughing a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Mr Trump then issued a second, stronger statement before appearing to back track on Tuesday on his more measured tone.