confederate flag faces decisive vote

CHARLESTON: The Confederate flag that flies over South Carolina's state capitol grounds could soon be destined for a museum as legislators met on Wednesday for a third day to decide the fate of what many view as a symbol of slavery.

A bill to remove the flag passed the state Senate by a wide margin on Tuesday with only three "no" votes and has the backing of South Carolina's Republican Governor Nikki Haley.

The bill's swift progress marks a dramatic turnaround in sentiment from only a few months ago.

Its sudden impetus stems from the murders of nine black churchgoers gunned down by a white man on June 17 during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, about two hours drive southeast of the state capital, Columbia. Photos of the white man charged in the shooting showed him posing with a Confederate flag on a website bearing a racist manifesto.

The bill needs to pass two readings in the 124-member House of Representatives before it goes to the governor's desk, perhaps as soon as Thursday. A poll conducted by the Post and Courier newspaper indicated that the bill has more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

It could be slowed in the Republican-controlled House by amendments from conservatives seeking to substitute the current Confederate battle flag with another historical southern or Confederate army flag, or to fly the current Confederate flag only on certain days, such as Confederate Memorial Day. "I don't foresee either one of those options gaining traction," said Representative Peter McCoy, a Republican. "It's going to be a long day. I hope it can remain as cordial as possible."

The flag's dwindling defenders, who deny the flag is tainted by slavery, argue that it deserves to continue flying. They say it honours those who fought and died for the state and the southern Confederacy on the losing side during the 1861-1865 Civil War. Critics note that the flag is an emblem of a four-year government that ceased to exist 150 years ago.