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Biden to travel to flashpoint city of Kenosha

Voters in Wisconsin had called for Democratic challenger Joe Biden to visit their state ahead of the election on November 3
Voters in Wisconsin had called for Democratic challenger Joe Biden to visit their state ahead of the election on November 3 JIM WATSON AFP/File
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Wilmington (United States) (AFP)

Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden will travel Thursday to Kenosha, Wisconsin -- the city at the heart of fresh US protests against racism and police brutality -- in a push to help it "heal" after a controversial visit by Donald Trump.

"This is about making sure that we move forward," the former vice president told reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware on Wednesday as he outlined plans for the trip.

"We've got to heal," Biden said. "We've got to put things together. Bring people together. And so my purpose in going will be to do just that. To be a positive influence on what's going on."

Biden's campaign said he would hold a community meeting in the Midwestern city, the latest to be rocked by violent anti-racism protests after a black father, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer on August 23.

The Democratic candidate and his wife Jill will also make an unspecified "local stop," according to a statement.

Wisconsin is expected to play a crucial role in the November 3 presidential election.

Trump won the state in a surprise victory in 2016, and the Republican president visited Kenosha on Tuesday -- against the wishes of the Democratic mayor and state governor, who feared his presence would stoke tensions.

Asked whether his visit likewise risked inflaming the situation, Biden said he had spoken to local leaders and "there's been overwhelming requests that I do come."

Demonstrations in Kenosha began peacefully the night that Blake was shot, but devolved in to violence for several nights running.

Tensions culminated on August 25, when two people were shot dead and a third injured. A 17-year-old white Trump supporter -- Kyle Rittenhouse, who reportedly went to Kenosha to protect the city against rioters -- has been arrested and charged with murder.

The president has refused to condemn the growing presence of armed vigilantes in the streets or the killings, calling the allegations against Rittenhouse "an interesting situation."

During his visit to Kenosha Tuesday Trump equated the protests demanding racial justice with "domestic terror" by violent mobs, as he toured the remains of burned businesses and threw his support behind law enforcement.

He did not meet with the family of Blake, who survived but may be paralyzed for life, or utter the 29-year-old's name publicly during the visit.

- Historic fundraising haul -

Trump has charged Biden with tolerating the violence, forcing the former vice president to issue a loud condemnation during a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday, the first city he had flown to in months after the coronavirus pandemic saw him stay at or close to home in Wilmington.

"Looting is not protesting, setting fires is not protesting," Biden said, accusing Trump of having "fomented" violence.

Unlike his rival, Biden relentlessly denounces institutional racism in the United States, does not hesitate to name Blake and spoke last week with his family.

Democratic senator Chris Coons, speaking to AFP in Wilmington, said the candidate will repeat his earlier message: that he has spoken with Blake's family, that he is against violence in all its forms, and that he "stands strongly for peaceful protest that is aimed at racial reconciliation and police reform."

Biden leads Trump in the average national polls, but the gap is closer in swing states, which could determine the outcome of the election.

Trump's 2016 rival Hillary Clinton was widely criticized for not campaigning in Wisconsin.

Democrats had planned to hold their party convention in the state this summer, but the event was forced almost entirely online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While Democratic voters have said they understood the decision, many had called for Biden to visit their state before the election.

On Wednesday Biden announced he had raised a record $364.5 million in August, including $205 million in small online donations -- in what his campaign called "the best month of online fundraising in American political history."

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