The Democratic convention has begun badly in Philadelphia as the chairwoman of the party’s national committee resigned over an email scandal.
It was a blow to Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who arrived in the city eager to show off a united party, after a tough campaign against Bernie Sanders.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz quit a few days after the publication of 19,000 hacked emails, which Sanders said confirmed his belief that the national party had favoured Clinton.
Clinton has been dogged by controversy over her use of a secret email server, when she was secretary of state. This led to chants of “lock her up” by delegates at last week’s Republican national convention.
Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, resigned as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) after Sanders urged her to go.
“The party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people,” he said.
However, he wants Clinton to defeat Donald Trump, and make it to the White House.
“I’m going to do everything I can to defeat him, to elect Hillary Clinton, and to keep focusing, keep focusing on the real issues facing the American people,” Sanders said on CNN.
Ms Wasserman Schultz’s abrupt departure was an effort to save the Democrats from the problems that marred last week’s Republican convention.
Republican runner-up, Ted Cruz, pointedly and publicly refused to endorse Trump, and was booed by many delegates, while there was a plagiarism row involving the candidate’s wife, Melania Trump.
Clinton and President Barack Obama both quickly praised the departed party chief, hoping to move past the controversy.
Sanders addressed the convention late last night, and Obama will speak tomorrow night.
The Philadelphia area has been hit by an oppressive heatwave, and supporters of Sanders were expected to hold major demonstrations.
In one of the largest rallies planned for the day, a pro-Sanders group was expected to walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge, which connects Camden, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
The rallies have been peaceful, so far.
On Sunday, throngs of people marched along a main road in the city to show their support for Sanders and their disdain for Clinton.
They chanted “Hell, no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary” and “This is what democracy looks like”.
Never one to miss an opportunity to poke fun at his rivals, Trump relished the Democratic chaos, writing on Twitter: “The Dems’ convention is cracking up.”
His campaign chief, Paul Manafort, went further and called on Clinton to drop out of the race altogether.
Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, tried to put the blame for the email leak onto “Russian state actors” who, he said, might have breached party computers “for the purpose of helping Donald Trump”.
“It was concerning, last week, that Donald Trump changed the Republican platform to become what some experts would regard as pro-Russian,” Mr Mook said.
Party wrangles aside, Clinton is within days of her long-held ambition to become the party’s official presidential nominee.
After the DNC released a slightly trimmed list of superdelegates — the party officials who can back any candidate — it now takes 2,382 delegates to formally clinch the nomination.
Clinton has 2,814, when including superdelegates, according to an Associated Press count. Sanders has 1,893.
Sanders urges supporters for unity
Bernie Sanders has urged supporters to line up behind Democrat Hillary Clinton while claiming victory in deposing and sidelining a top party official.
Some of his supporters jeered in disapproval, indicating that turmoil at this week’s convention in Philadelphia will not end with the departure of the party chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.
Speaking to his convention delegates, just hours before the Democrats opened a convention to nominate his primary rival, the Vermont senator tried to settle growing tensions between his supporters and the party rank-and-file lining up behind Clinton.
A fresh email controversy, appearing to show bias by party officials against Sanders, has made that task harder just as the national spotlight turns to the Democrats’ rally behind Clinton.
“Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in,” Sanders told his audience, raising his hand in an effort to quiet them.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is “a bully and demagogue”, he said, who must not win the White House.
The remarks were met with boos and grumbling from supporters clearly not ready to give up the fight for what he calls his “political revolution”.
Sanders tried to persuade them they had already won by helping to create what he called the “most progressive Democratic platform in the history of the party”.
And he, too, celebrated the removal of Wasserman Schultz after the email hack.
“Her resignation opens up the possibility of new leaders at the top of the Democratic Party that will stand with working people,” he said.
For Democrats who spent last week voicing criticism over the Republicans’ troubled convention in Cleveland, the scene was a painful reminder of their own problems.
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