image copyrightEPAimage captionThe statue will be taken down on Saturday morning

A statue of a Confederate general at the centre of a violent rally in Charlottesville nearly four years ago is to be removed on Saturday.

The statue of General Robert E Lee and a nearby statue of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson will be moved to storage, local officials say.

Plans to remove the Lee statue prompted a white nationalist rally that turned deadly in August 2017.

A counter-protester was killed amid a national debate over race.

Hundreds of statues of Lee, Jackson and other famous figures of the Confederacy – the southern states that revolted against the federal government – exist all throughout the US.

Some see the memorials, as well as Confederate flags, as markers of US history and southern culture.

But to others, they serve as an offensive reminder of the country's history of slavery and racial oppression.

The 2017 protests in Charlottesville were triggered by the city council's decision to remove a statue of Lee.

The resulting "Unite the Right" rally saw the death of 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer when she was struck by a car. The driver was later sentenced to life in prison.

  • What happened in Charlottesville?
  • Why the fuss over Confederate statues?

The events stunned the US and tensions were further inflamed by former President Donald Trump's insistence that there was "blame on both sides."

The city had continued to push for the removal of the statue after the protests, but was prevented from acting by legal action and changes to the law.

media captionFootage captured the moment a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville

But in April, Virginia's highest court ruled the statue could be taken down.

Charlottesville has set up viewing areas so people can gather to watch the statues come down early on Saturday morning.

Take 'Em Down CVille, a group which has campaigned for the statues' removal, applauded news of the plans.

"No one believes that removing the statues will end white supremacy but this is an important step – and one long past due," it said.

City officials say the statues will be held in a secure location until the council decides where to relocate them.

Local officials have said they plan to redesign the park spaces where the statues are located "in a way that promotes healing and that tells a more complete history of Charlottesville".