WASHINGTON - Two of the biggest retailers in the United States have decided to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise as a debate rages around the banner seen by many as a symbol of racial violence in the wake of a deadly attack on a black church.
Their move came soon after a call by South Carolina's Republican governor for the contentious Civil War battle flag to be removed from a place of honour in front of its Capitol, where it has flown for half a century.
"It's time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds," Ms Nikki Haley said in the state capital, about 160km from Charleston, where white gunman Dylann Roof, 21, allegedly shot dead nine black worshippers at a historic church. Roof's website features a white supremacy manifesto and photographs of him holding a Confederate flag and a handgun.
"The flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state," said Ms Haley.
She urged lawmakers, whose normal legislative year wraps up this week, to address the issue soon and said she would order a special session if they did not.
As the political debate raged, the world's biggest retailer Walmart said it does not want to offend anyone with the products it offers. Spokesman Brian Nick said: "We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the Confederate flag from our assortment - whether in our stores or on our website."
Mr Nick said Walmart has a process in place which helps it decide the merchandise it sells. Still, at times, items make their way into their assortment improperly.
Walmart's website yesterday still showed the flag and other merchandise carrying the flag available for purchase.
Its competitor Sears Holdings, which operates Sears and Kmart stores, said it does not sell Confederate flags and that it has decided to remove any such merchandise offered by third parties on its online marketplace, according to spokesman Chris Brathwaite.
"We are in the process of scrubbing our marketplace to pull those items down," Mr Brathwaite said.
Other big US chains and retail websites made no immediate comment.
Target's website did not show any flags being sold. A search on Amazon.com found Confederate flags and merchandise featuring flag designs sold by third parties. Amazon itself did not appear to be selling the flags or related items.
Rival eBay listed more than 1,000 Confederate flags and related items offered by third-party sellers on its website.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS