A number of senior and high-profile Republicans have condemned President Donald Trump for suggesting there is "blame on both sides" following the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Trump has been heavily criticised for his comments made during a hastily arranged press conference at Trump Tower, in which he equated violence shown by far-right groups and neo-Nazis with those protesting against them.

Heather Heyer was killed in a suspected ram-raiding attack by alleged white supramacist James Fields while protesting the Unite the Right rally the Virginia city.

After previously branding white supremacists and members of the KKK who commit violence "criminal and thugs", Trump appeared to almost backtrack on the comments after telling reporters there was also "a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent".

Trump also described how you had "very fine people" on both sides of the demonstrations in Charlottesville, adding there were others who took part in the protest against the removal of Confederate states "other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists".

Trump added: "I'm not putting anybody on a moral plane. You had a group on one side and group on the other and they came at each other with clubs – there is another side, you can call them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. You had people that were very fine people on both sides."

Members of the GOP, some of who have defended Trump's previous controversial comments before, condemned Trump's latest remarks, asking why he appears to be unable to "unequivocally condemn" white nationalists.

Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in New York Reuters

In a series of tweets, Republican Florida senator Marc Rubio said: "The organizers of events which inspired and led to Charlottesville terrorist attack are 100% to blame for a number of reasons.

"They are adherents of an evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race, ethnicity or nation of origin. When entire movement built on anger and hatred towards people different than you, it justifies & ultimately leads to violence against them.

"These groups today use same symbols and same arguments of Nazi and KKK, groups responsible for some of worst crimes against humanity ever.

"Mr President, you can't allow white supremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation and world so much pain. The white supremacy groups will see being assigned only 50% of blame as a win. We cannot allow this old evil to be resurrected!"

Former republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush added: "This is a time for moral clarity, not ambivalence. I urge President Trump to unite the country, not parse the assignment of blame for the events in Charlottesville.

"For the sake of our country, he must leave no room for doubt that racism and hatred will not be tolerated or ignored by his White House."

Former GOP presidential hopefuls John McCain and Mitt Romney also attacked Trump for suggesting anti-fascists and the far-right are similar. Romney said: "No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.

McCain added: "There's no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so."

The comments were also condemned by members of Trump's staff, with speaker of the house Paul Ryan tweeting: "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

charlottesville white supremacist fascist protests
A man carries a sign reading: 'Wake up and smell the Nazis' during an anti-fascism rally outside the White House Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Not everyone was quick to distance themselves from Trump's remarks, with his comments praised by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who tweeted, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth."

Elsewhere, alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer tweeted: "Trump's statement was fair and down to earth. Charlottesville could have been peaceful, if police did its job." Online personality Baked Alaska, known to express far-right views, adds: "President Trump is right! One side had a permit to speak, one side charged with clubs and weapons! Look at the facts people."

Despite the controversy, the White House also backed Trump, describing them as "entirely correct" in the talking points memo. It added: "Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility."