By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina lawmakers were set to begin debate Monday on legislation to remove the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia.
The debate comes after numerous elected officials, such as Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, called for the flag's removal in light of the June 17 massacre of nine African-American members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston. The shooting took the life of the church's pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state Senator. Politicians and businesses are trying to banish the flag, widely viewed as a symbol of slavery, across the country in response to the Bible study killings. Photos of the white man charged in the shooting showed him posing with it on a website that also carried a racist manifesto.
The removal legislation appears to have a good chance of success, and could be approved as early as Thursday.
A recent poll taken by the Post and Courier newspaper showed both houses of the legislature would reach the two-thirds majority required under state law to move the flag, which was flown by rebelling states in the Civil War.
Haley has led the charge for the flag's removal and 29 of the state's 46 senators have also signed onto bipartisan legislation that would transfer it to a military museum.
The state Senate is expected to vote first to take the flag down, followed by a debate in the House of Representatives.
The Confederate flag was raised atop the State House dome in 1961 as part of centennial commemorations of the Civil War. Critics said that was a direct challenge to civil rights, voting rights and desegregation protests at the time.
In 2000, after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced an economic boycott of South Carolina and protestors marched on the state capital, lawmakers agreed to a compromise, moving the flag to a monument to Confederate war dead on the capitol grounds.
The NAACP action, as well as boycotts by sports organizations and protests saying the flag is an offensive symbol of slavery and white supremacy, have continued since then.
(Editing by David Adams and Lisa Lambert)