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S. Carolina House Begins Debate on Removing Confederate Flag

Protesters stand near a flying Confederate flag during a rally in support of its removal from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds in Columbia, June 20, 2015.

South Carolina's House of Representatives is debating a bill to remove the Civil War-era Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds, where it has flown for more than 50 years.

The bill, backed by both Democrats and Republicans, was approved 36 to 3 by the state Senate on Tuesday.

During Wednesday's debate, the House rejected an amendment to repurpose the area where the Confederate flag currently stands for use as a monument to Stand Watie, a Cherokee (Native American) chief who fought with Confederate soldiers.

Citizens and politicians across South Carolina, including Republican Governor Nikki Haley, demanded the flag come down after a white racist allegedly massacred nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston on June 17.

Posed with flag

Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C, June 19, 2015.
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C, June 19, 2015.

The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, was seen carrying the Confederate flag in pictures taken before the killings.

Flag opponents call the flag a symbol of white supremacy and the fight by southern states in the Civil War of the 1860s to keep slavery legal.

Flag supporters say it is a sign of history and pride in their family heritage, not slavery. Many of them say they abhor the racists who they say have hijacked the flag.

The Confederate flag flew on top of the South Carolina State House from 1962 until it was moved to a Civil War memorial in 2000. Flag opponents say it was originally put up over the Capitol to defy racial integration.

October trial date

Suspected church shooter Roof is in jail waiting for his next court appearance, due in October.

He has already been charged with nine counts of murder -- one for each victim. He was charged with three counts of attempted murder Tuesday for the three survivors.

Roof also faces one count of possessing a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Federal prosecutors are also considering hate crimes charges against him.