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McAuliffe temporarily bans protests at General Lee statue in Richmond

FILE -The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stands in the middle of a traffic circle on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order on Friday temporarily barring protests at the monument. (Steve Helber/AP)

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Friday temporarily blocked protests at the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a residential neighborhood in Richmond, following violent clashes in Charlottesville that led to three fatalities.

In an executive order issued at about 5 p.m., he suspended the issuance of permits for protests until a task force lead by Brian Moran, the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, writes new emergency regulations.

Those regulations will be issued in three months, he said.

The action is needed to give “state and local officials breathing room to make thoughtful and informed decisions on managing the new reality of the potential for civil unrest,” according to a statement released by his office.

“State and local officials need to get ahead of this problem, so that we have the proper legal protections in place to allow for peaceful demonstrations, but without putting citizens and property at risk,” McAuliffe said.

The order is not intended to violate First Amendments rights to speech and assemble peacefully, he said.

“Let me be clear, this executive order has nothing to do with infringing upon first amendment rights. This is a temporary suspension, issued with the singular purpose of creating failsafe regulations to preserve the health and well-being of our citizens and ensuring that nothing like what occurred in Charlottesville happens again.”

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Weeks of preparation could not protect Charlottesville from “domestic terrorism” that killed one woman and indirectly caused the deaths of two state troopers, McAuliffe said.

Several groups have requested permits to hold similar events at the Lee monument in Richmond, his office said.

Current regulations allow demonstrations for up to 5,000 people to gather from sunrise to 11 p.m., outside the statue, which features Lee on horseback in a traffic circle in a historic neighborhood known as “The Fan,” and could cause safety concerns, he said.

Charlottesville tries to wash away the stains of hate

McAuliffe on Friday spoke at the funeral of Berke Bates, a state trooper-pilot who died while on patrol over the protests and was previously assigned to the unit protecting McAuliffe and his family.

In a tragic first, governor presides over funeral for member of his security detail