US & Canada

Statue of Liberty climber charged with trespassing

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Media captionThe person could be seen climbing around the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York

A woman who climbed up on the Statue of Liberty and sat on the monument's base has been charged with trespassing.

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

She was identified as Therese Okoumou, a 44-year-old naturalised US citizen from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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

She pleaded not guilty to charges of misdemeanour trespassing and disorderly conduct in a Manhattan court on Thursday. She faces up to six months in jail on each charge.

A federal magistrate judge released Ms Okoumou without bail after she spent a night behind bars, US media report.

Ms Okoumou, donning a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "White Supremacy is Terrorism", told reporters outside the courthouse that she scaled the landmark in an impromptu protest over the Trump administration's immigration policy, which has left thousands of migrant children separated from their parents.

"When they go low, we go high and I went as high as I could," she said, quoting former First Lady Michelle Obama. "No children belong in a cage."

US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement that Ms Okoumou "staged a dangerous stunt that alarmed the public and endangered her own life and the lives of the NYPD officers who responded to the scene.

"While we must and do respect the rights of the people to peaceable protest, that right does not extend to breaking the law in ways that put others at risk. "

The charges allege she endangered herself and officers by refusing to come down during the three-hour standoff.

Officers had to climb up 100ft (30m) on the statue in order to reach her.

"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.

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

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".

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

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.

Image copyright Getty 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.

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.

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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