One person has died and 19 others were injured after a car ploughed into a group of anti-white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

University of Virginia Medical Centre spokeswoman Angela Taylor confirmed the death, while the mayor of Charlottesville Michael Signer said via Twitter that he is “heartbroken” to announce that a “life has been lost”.

Witnesses said a car ploughed into a crowd of people who were protesting against a rally held by white nationalists who oppose the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee by civic officials in Charlottesville.

The city had been the scene of violent clashes between the nationalists and counter-protesters earlier.

Speaking in New Jersey, US president Donald Trump condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” in Virginia.

He added: “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives.”

And the US leader added that Americans must come together “with love for our nation … and true affection for each other”.

The damage to the car can be seen after hitting protestersThe damage to the car can be seen after hitting protesters (The Daily Progress/AP)

A state official later said the male driver of a car is in police custody.

During the incident an Associated Press reporter saw at least one person on the ground receiving medical treatment immediately after the car careened into a group of people several hundred strong.

Matt Korbon, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student, said counter-protesters were marching when “suddenly there was just this tyre screeching sound”.

A silver vehicle smashed into another car, then reversed, ploughing through “a sea of people”.

Virginia State Police cordon off an area around the site where a car ran into a group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in CharlottesvilleVirginia State Police cordon off an area around the site where a car ran into a group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville (Steve Belper/AP)

The incident happened about two hours after violent clashes broke out between white nationalists and others who arrived to protest against them.

At least eight were injured and one arrested in connection with earlier violence when marchers and counter-protesters traded punches and threw missiles at each other.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency, and riot police ordered people to disperse.

Rescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in CharlottesvilleRescue personnel help injured people after a car ran into a large group of protesters after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville (Steve Belper/AP)

Small bands of protesters who showed up to express their opposition to the rally were seen marching around the city peacefully by mid-afternoon, chanting and waving flags, while helicopters circled overhead.

Right-wing blogger Jason Kessler had called for what he termed a “pro-white” rally to protest the city of Charlottesville’s decision to remove the confederate statue from a city centre park.

It is the latest confrontation in Charlottesville since the city about 100 miles outside of Washington, DC, voted earlier this year to remove a statue of Lee.

In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a night-time protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group travelled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters.

Mr Kessler said this week that the rally is partly about the removal of Confederate symbols, but also about free speech and “advocating for white people”.

“This is about an anti-white climate within the Western world and the need for white people to have advocacy like other groups do,” he said in an interview.

Among those expected to attend the rally were Confederate heritage groups, KKK members, militia groups and “alt-right” activists, who generally espouse a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism.

Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which track extremist groups, said the event had the potential to be the largest of its kind in at least a decade.

There were also fights on Friday night, when hundreds of white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus carrying torches.

A university spokesman said one person was arrested and several people were injured.

Mr Signer said he was disgusted that the white nationalists had come to his town, and blamed President Donald Trump for inflaming racial prejudices with his campaign last year.

He said: “I’m not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”

Charlottesville, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a liberal-leaning city which is home to the flagship University of Virginia and Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

The statue’s removal is part of a broader city effort to change the way Charlottesville’s history is told in public spaces. The city has also renamed Lee Park, where the statue stands, and Jackson Park, named for Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. They’re now called Emancipation Park and Justice Park, respectively.

For now, the Lee statue remains. A group called the Monument Fund has filed a lawsuit arguing that removing the statue would violate a state law governing war memorials.

A judge has agreed to a temporary injunction which blocks the city from removing the statue for six months.