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Trump holds Tulsa rally amid protests, coronavirus concerns

President Donald Trump has held his first major rally in months in a bid to boost his reelection chances. The crowd was smaller than expected, but health officials warned the event could spark a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Watch video 00:35

No COVID-19 concerns for Trump rally visitors

Thousands of Trump supporters descended on Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday for the US president's first campaign rally in more than three months. 

"You are warriors," Trump told his supporters after taking the stage.

The event followed weeks of protests about racial inequality, and comes as the US continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tulsa has seen COVID-19 cases spike over the past week. Local health officials warned that holding a massive gathering at a 19,000-person indoor arena only increased the risk of coronavirus spreading.

The crowd ultimately appeared lighter than expected, with thousands of empty seats. Campaign officials also scrapped plans for the president to first address an overflow crowd outdoors.

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Staffers test positive

Just hours before the rally, Trump's campaign reported that six members of staff who had been helping set up the event had tested positive for the virus.

"Quarantine procedures were immediately implemented," Tim Murtaugh, the campaign communications director, said in a statement. "No COVID-positive staffers or anyone in immediate contact will be at today's rally or near attendees and elected officials."

Hand sanitizer and masks were handed out at the entrance, but the campaign also issued a disclaimer, telling those attending that they must "assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19."

During his speech Trump appeared to make light of the coronavirus, which has claimed at least 120,000 lives in the US, by referring to it as the "kung flu." He also said he had instructed people to slow down coronavirus testing because more tests lead to a higher case count.

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Germany 'ripping off' US

In his remarks Trump singled out Germany, saying it owed the US $1 trillion (€890 billion).

"We're supposed to protect Germany from Russia, but they are paying billions of dollars to Russia for a brand new pipeline," he said, referring to the Nord Stream 2 project.

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He described German Chancellor Angela Merkel as "a very nice woman, very good negotiator" but accused Germany of "ripping off" the US.

Reelection bid stumbles

Trump is seeking reelection in November, but is trailing in the polls behind his Democratic rival Joe Biden. His campaign has been marred by criticism over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and his response to the police killing of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. Trump has also come under fire for deciding to hold the rally in Tulsa, where hundreds of Black residents were killed by white mobs in 1921. 

Protests were also held in Tulsa on Saturday, and some of the city's Black leaders had voiced concerns about unrest. Authorities said they expected around 100,000 people in the downtown area.

Trump warned Friday that the rally aimed to focus on reopening the coronavirus-hit economy, and that any "protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes" who traveled to Oklahoma would be firmly dealt with.

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nm,ed/dr (Reuters, AP, dpa)

This is an updated version of a previous article.