20240421 trump rally
Supporters of former US President and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are asked to move to a shelter as a storm moves in before Trump's speech at a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina. Image Credit: AFP

Wilmington, United States: Donald Trump called off a rally on Saturday, the Republican candidate's first campaign event since his criminal trial in New York began this week, due to bad weather threatening the outdoor gathering.

Thousands of supporters had gathered for the event at the airport in the North Carolina city of Wilmington when he called in 30 minutes before the scheduled start.

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"We want to make sure that everybody is safe above all and so they've asked us to ask people to leave the site and seek shelter," Trump said in the call broadcast over the loudspeakers, with thick dark clouds overhead and scattered lightning strikes.

"It's a pretty big storm. So if you don't mind, I think we're going to have to just do a rain check. I'm so sad."

Trump promised to hold a "bigger and better" rally at the same venue another time, and the disappointed crowd quickly dispersed.

The event had been set to take place ahead of opening statements Monday morning in Trump's "hush money" trial in New York, after jury selection was completed on Friday.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of business fraud as part of an alleged plan to cover up payments to a porn star to keep the story of a sexual encounter from emerging just before the 2016 presidential election, in which he beat Hillary Clinton.

Trump has denounced the trial - the first of a former US president - as a political "witch hunt," and many of his supporters agree.

"It's not... a criminal trial, really. It's just a political one," said Grace Miller, 58, a retiree from North Carolina who had come for the rally. "You can't just make something into a felony. I mean, they think we're stupid, but we're not."

Truck driver Stephen Prater accused Democrats of using the trial to prevent Trump's re-election.

"The left is trying to try to pull every stop they can to keep him from getting to office," said Prater, 29.

Battleground North Carolina

In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump again complained the trial was impeding his ability to campaign.

While his address in North Carolina had been expected to follow a similar critical line, Trump has been ordered by the judge in the New York case, Juan Marchan, not to attack witnesses, prosecutors or relatives of court staff - a limitation the Republican has blasted as "very unfair."

Democrats hope to flip the battleground state of North Carolina after Trump's victories there in 2016 and 2020.

Joe Biden lost the state to Trump by only 75,000 votes in 2020, the same year North Carolina's Democratic governor won re-election.

With Trump set to be on trial possibly for weeks in New York - and facing more pending charges in Washington, Georgia and Florida - Biden has begun stepping up his own campaign appearances.