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Charlottesville, Virginia (CNN)Demonstrators clashed Saturday on the streets of Charlottesville ahead of a “Unite the Right” rally as white nationalists and other right-wing groups — and counter-protesters — converged in this college town in the latest flare-up of a running nation debate over the country’s identity.

Fist fights and screaming matches erupted before the rally, which police expect to attract thousands of people. The skirmishes unfolded just hours after a scuffle Friday night between torch-bearing demonstrators and counter-protesters at the nearby University of Virginia.

Saturday’s rally is the latest event drawing white nationalists and right-wing activists from across the country to this Democratic-voting college town — a development first precipitated by the city’s decision to remove symbols of its Confederate past.