A man has been shot in the US as an armed civilian group clashed with protesters trying to take down a statue of a Spanish conquistador.
He is in hospital in a critical but stable condition after he was shot outside the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico on Monday night, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
Protesters were trying to take down the statue of Juan de Onate in the state’s largest city by wrapping a chain around it, and had started pulling on it while chanting: “Tear it down.”
One protester repeatedly swung a pick-axe at the base of the statue.
A group of armed men, who call themselves the New Mexico Civil Guard, were trying to stop the statue being taken down when gunshots were heard and people started shouting that someone had been shot.
Police then used tear gas and stun grenades to protect officers who rushed into the group and detained those involved in the shooting, Mr Gallegos said.
He said their weapons were removed and they were taken into custody for questioning, while police secured the area.
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Meanwhile, the statue has been removed by city authorities until officials determine what to do with it.
Mayor Tim Keller described the shooting as a “tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence,” adding that “it has no place in our city”.
Mr Keller continued: “Our diverse community will not be deterred by acts meant to divide or silence us.
“Our hearts go out the victim, his family, and witnesses whose lives were needlessly threatened tonight.
“This sculpture has now become an urgent matter of public safety.”
Democrat governor Michelle Lujan Grisham took aim at the armed men, saying no matter who strikes first, there would be no room in New Mexico for any sort of escalation of “reckless, violent rhetoric”.
“The instigators this evening will be rooted out, they will be investigated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” she added.
Protesters around the world have been demanding statues of slave traders and people deemed racist are removed.
Statues of Juan de Onate, who arrived in what is now New Mexico in 1598, have been criticised for decades.
While he is celebrated by those who can trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers, he is reviled for his brutality.
Native Americans have a hatred of Onate – he ordered that 24 captive tribal warriors have their right feet cut off after his nephew was killed.
In 1998, the right foot of his statue in Alcade, northern New Mexico, was sawn off.
That statue was placed in storage on Monday to protect it from further damage and to avoid civil unrest ahead of a scheduled protest.
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A crowd in Alcade cheered as a forklift pulled the massive bronze statue of Onate on horseback from a concrete pedestal.
“This is public property and I’m not going to allow it to be damaged,” county manager Tomas Campos said.
“Plus, I don’t feel like risking my sheriff’s deputies or state police to defend it.”
Dozens of people celebrated its removal with Native American dancing and drumming outside the cultural centre where it had been, leaving red hand prints on the empty statue pedestal.
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