NEW YORK, Jun 03 (APP):Former US vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, Tuesday sharply criticized President Donald Trump for ordering protesters forcibly removed from near the White House so he could have his picture taken holding a Bible in front of a church.

Meanwhile, cities across the US are seeing widespread protests since George Floyd, an African-American man, died at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

Protesters had been demonstrating in Lafayette Park near the White House on Monday night, but they were forcefully and violently pushed away by police to clear the area for the President.

Moments after the park was cleared, Trump walked across to pose with a Bible in front of St John’s Church, which had been damaged by fire during protests.

In a speech at Philadelphia’s City Hall, Biden mounted one of his most aggressive attacks on Trump, criticizing his disregard of core constitutional values and for being “more interested in power than in principle”.

“When peaceful protesters are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle,” Biden said. “More interested in serving the passions of his base than the needs of the people in his care. For that’s what the presidency is: the duty to care — to care for all of us.”

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said of the routing of the protesters: “At no time do we think it was appropriate that people who had not violated the curfew or anything else received that treatment.”

And Democrats weren’t the only ones saying the President had gone too far.

“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property, and no right to throw rocks at police,” Nebraskan Republican senator Ben Sasse said.

“But there is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop.”

Trump authorized Attorney-General William Barr to oversee greater deployment of federal law enforcement officers, including the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The President also ordered military aircraft to fly above Washington near the White House, usually a no-fly zone, as a “show of force”, according to media reports, citing two Defence Department officials.

It was Attorney-General Barr who then gave the order for law enforcement to clear out the protest before Trump’s walk to the church and ahead of newly imposed 7:00 pm curfew in Washington, the reports said.

Biden’s solemn, rousing speech in Philadelphia ranged from sweeping references to historical injustice and broadsides against Trump, to the personal story of his son Beau Biden’s death. It was Biden’s first formal address in public since March, when the coronavirus forced him and millions of other Americans to shelter in place.

“Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either. But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division,” Biden said. “I won’t fan the flames of hate. I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain.”

Biden invoked Floyd’s memory on Tuesday by repeating his last words. ”‘I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd’s last words,” said Biden. “But they didn’t die with him. They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation.”

“They speak to a nation where too often just the colour of your skin puts your life at risk. They speak to a nation where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives to a virus and 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment – with a disproportionate number of these deaths and job losses concentrated in the black and minority communities,” he added.

Over the past 24 hours, the split-screen image that has been created by the two major party nominees for the White House in November, Biden and Trump, is as stark as any from a presidential race in recent memory.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people joined largely peaceful demonstrations in cities across the country.

In New York City, protesters defied an earlier curfew.

Traffic police were deployed to stop a repeat of the previous night’s looting in Manhattan, and there were no reports of major incidents.

At least 40 cities have imposed strict curfew measures after days of violent protests .

In Atlanta, police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration near Centennial Olympic Park, reports said.

In a statement ahead of the president’s visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday, Archbishop Wilton Gregory said it violated the church’s religious principles, adding that Catholics should defend the rights of all people.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” the statement said.

The archbishop also condemned the forceful clearing of protesters outside the White House on Monday to allow Trump to visit a church where he held a Bible in front of gathered media.

Archbishop Gregory is the first African-American to lead the diocese.

Washington’s Episcopalian bishop, Mariann Budde, also condemned the president’s actions.