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Trump visits Mount Rushmore amid controversy, coronavirus concerns

WASHINGTON, July 3 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump will begin his July Fourth celebrations with a trip to Mount Rushmore on Friday despite concerns about gathering a large crowd during the novel coronavirus pandemic and criticism from Native Americans about the visit.

Trump will view a fireworks display with thousands of people at the South Dakota landmark, which depicts the images of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

The site has not had fireworks since 2009 because of environmental concerns. Trump advocated for a resumption of the display, and the state says the surrounding Black Hills National Forest has "gained strength" since then and that fireworks technology has advanced.

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Tulsa, Oklahoma, prepares for Trump rally

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TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 19: A metal bust of U.S. President Donald Trump is on display outside the BOK Center as people line up to attend his campaign rally tomorrow June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 19: A metal bust of U.S. President Donald Trump is on display outside the BOK Center as people line up to attend his campaign rally tomorrow June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 19: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump sleep in the early morning while lined up to attend the Trump's campaign rally near the BOK Center, site of tomorrow's rally, June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 19: Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump sleep in the early morning while lined up to attend the Trump's campaign rally near the BOK Center, site of tomorrow's rally, June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: A mural painted on the side of Mad Dog Liquors is shown June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre occurred in Tulsa in the year 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Children pose for photos in front of a mural painted on the side of Mad Dog Liquors June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre occurred in Tulsa in the year 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: A woman poses for photos in front of a mural marking Black Wall Street, also called the Greenwood District, June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: The Black Wall Street Massacre memorial is shown June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Tributes to George Floyd are laid at the base of a Black Wall Street mural, also called the Greenwood District, June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Children pose for a photo in front of a mural marking Black Wall Street, also called the Greenwood Distric, June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: The Black Wall Street Massacre memorial is shown June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: People visit the memorial to the Black Wall Street Massacre June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: The Black Wall Street Massacre memorial is shown June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Black Wall Street Massacre happened in 1921 and was one of the worst race riots in the history of the United States where more than 35 square blocks of a predominantly black neighborhood were destroyed in two days of rioting leaving between 150-300 people dead. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Trump 2020 face masks and other merchandise are shown for sale outside the BOK Center June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Keegan Smith wears a Trump 2020 face mask while waiting in line outside the BOK Center June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Nicholas Winford (L) debates a group of Trump supporters on the racial policies of U.S. President Donald Trump outside the BOK Center June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Trump supporters pose for photos with a giant Trump flag outside BOK Center, site of U.S. President Donald Trump's first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - JUNE 18: Nicholas Winford (R) debates Trump supporter Randall Thom (L), on the racial policies of U.S. President Donald Trump outside the BOK Center June 18, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump is scheduled to hold his first political rally since the start of the coronavirus pandemic at the BOK Center on Saturday while infection rates in the state of Oklahoma continue to rise. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Supporters of President Trump, including a man dressed as the border wall, line up outside outside an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 18, 2020, where the president will hold his first campaign rally in months this weekend .Despite the heat, the ever-growing risk of coronavirus and a lukewarm reception from local officials, dozens of backers of Trump are already camped out outside the arena (AP photo/ Tom McCarthy)

FILE - In this Monday, June 15, 2020, file photo, a sign marks the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, the former home of Black Wall Street, in Tulsa, Okla. Black community leaders in Tulsa said they fear a large rally by President Donald Trump in the city this weekend could spark violence, and the state's governor asked Trump not to visit the site of a race massacre where up to 300 black residents were killed by white mobs in 1921. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Shawn-Du Stackhouse, left, and Chelsea Guillory, right, pose for a photo at the Black Wall Street Memorial in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, June 15, 2020. For Stackhouse, a barber from the Washington, D.C. area and one of those visiting the Tulsa massacre memorials on this day, the proof that cell-phone videos provided of killings of African-Americans today somehow make the killings of the past, like Tulsa's, more real as well. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Freeman Culver stands in front of a mural listing the names of businesses destroyed during the Tulsa race massacre in Tulsa, Okla., Monday, June 15, 2020, on the other side of what's historically the city's white-black dividing line from where President Donald Trump will rally Saturday. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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It will be the Republican president's latest event with large crowds, defying health experts' recommendations to avoid big gatherings amid a spate of recent spikes of COVID-19 cases across the country.

Some 7,500 people are expected to attend the outdoor event. Masks will be available but are not required.

South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem told Fox News earlier this week that those who had concerns could stay home and said "we won't be social distancing."

Trump won the reliably Republican-leaning state in 2016. He has been criticized for holding large events with little social distancing in Oklahoma and Arizona in recent weeks. On Thursday he predicted a "fireworks display like few people have seen."

Native Americans, who reportedly plan to protest during the trip, have criticized Trump's visit for increasing the risk of spreading the virus and for celebrating U.S. independence in an area that is sacred to them.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) tweeted at one point that Trump had disrespected Native Americans and that the event was "glorifying white supremacy." It later deleted the tweet.

Both Washington and Jefferson, revered for their roles in the founding of the nation, were slave owners.

Representatives of the DNC did not respond to a request to explain the reasons for the deleted tweet.

"Instead of living up to the most basic responsibilities of his office this Independence Day, Donald Trump is still downplaying the virus, calling for a slowdown of testing, bucking social distancing guidelines, and showing Americans why we can’t afford four more years of him in the White House,” the DNC said ahead of the trip on Thursday.

Trump will hold another celebration for the July Fourth holiday on Saturday in Washington. (Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Grant McCool)

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