July 05, 2018

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Statue of Liberty climber in court after forcing evacuation

A woman who climbed up on the Statue of Liberty and sat on the monument's base is in detention, police say.

Tourists were evacuated from Liberty Island in New York Harbour on Wednesday during a three-hour stand-off involving local and federal authorities.

US media have named her as Therese Okoumou, a 44-year-old immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ms Okoumou was reportedly protesting against President Trump's zero-tolerance policy on immigration.

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"At first, she wasn't friendly with us, but we took the time to get a rapport with her so that took a while," New York Police Detective Brian Glacken said at a news conference.

"She just kind of mentioned the kids in Texas. I guess the whole debate that's going on about that," he said in reference to migrant children who have been taken away from parents held in custody for entering the US illegally.

"In the beginning, she threatened to push us off, push the ladder off, but we stayed with her," he continued.

Ms Okoumou is due in court on Thursday, and could face charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct, and violating national park regulations.

Earlier, several people were arrested after holding a protest at the statue.

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Members of the activist group Rise and Resist had earlier unveiled an "Abolish Ice" banner on the statue's pedestal.

The sign referred to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government agency responsible for removing undocumented immigrants from the US.

National Park Service police and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) were called to the scene around 15:30 on Wednesday shortly after reports of an individual climbing the monument.

It took officials nearly three hours to remove Ms Okoumou.

One eyewitness, Eric Kwasi Oppongto, posted a short video of the incident on Twitter, which he said involved an individual with a T-shirt emblazoned with "Trump care makes me sick" and "Rise and Resist".

Skip Twitter post by @ekojnr

Guy climbing statue of liberty @CNN #July4th #FourthofJuly pic.twitter.com/bJA5rMexKg

— eric kwasi oppong (@ekojnr) July 4, 2018


End of Twitter post by @ekojnr

Another user, Sarah, said the island was being "evacuated of all tourists".

Skip Twitter post by @sarah_eyebrows

Still there. A ladder has appeared #statueofliberty pic.twitter.com/n03QxDVqZC

— Sarah (@sarah_eyebrows) July 4, 2018


End of Twitter post by @sarah_eyebrows

It took police three hours to coax Ms Okoumou, a personal trainer, down via a ladder that had been secured to the statue's pedestal. They said prosecutors would decide later whether she would be charged with any crime.

Detective Glacken, who works for the New York Police Department's Emergency Service Unit, said it had not been an easy operation.

"It was a really technical rescue just because of the slopes up there - I mean, it wasn't a flat surface. There was nothing for [my colleague] Chris [Williams] and I to grab on to," he said.

"At first she wasn't friendly with us but we took our time to basically get a dialogue with her... when we got her and she couldn't go any further I think she realised that her time was up up there."

Rise and Resist initially denied any connection to the climber.

The anti-Trump activist group later admitted that Ms Okoumou had helped plan the banner demonstration, but maintained the climbing stunt was her idea.

Demonstrations have recently taken place across the country over US authorities' removal of hundreds of child migrants from their parents, who were detained for crossing the border without documentation.

Liberty statue 'Refugees Welcome' banner

Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Image caption

Rise and Resist members say Ms Okoumou helped plan the banner demonstration

Wednesday's protests took place on the Fourth of July holiday celebrating US independence.

National Park Services officials estimate that approximately 20,000 tourists visit the statue to mark the holiday.

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On Twitter, a conservative black comedian criticised the protester.

"I never seen a black person climb the statue to protest against black on black crime & that separates families permanently," wrote Terrence Williams.

But other users praised the demonstration, and that it occurred on US independence day.

Skip Twitter post by @BreeNewsome

Protesting at the Statue of Liberty demanding an end to state violence & the inhumane detention of children seems a fitting way to spend a holiday that's purportedly about celebrating the end of tyranny. Happy July 4th to #TheresePatriciaOkoumou


— Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome) July 5, 2018


End of Twitter post by @BreeNewsome

In February last year, protesters hung a giant "Refugees Welcome" banner across the Liberty statue's observation deck.

Attaching items to the national monument, a symbol of America's acceptance of immigrants, is strictly prohibited, according to National Park Service police.

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