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Tuesday, August 3, 2004
US Statue of Liberty reopens
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US Statue of Liberty reopens

- Grant McCool

The Statue of Liberty reopens to visitors today for the first time since the September 11, 2001, attacks following security and safety improvements paid for by more than $30 million (16 million pounds) in donations. But what should be a festive event on Tuesday is shadowed by criticism that the crown on America's best-known symbol remains off-limits and that Washington has failed to respond to New York's pleas for more aid to protect high-risk buildings.

The national monument in New York Harbour was closed nearly three years ago as a security precaution after Islamic extremists killed nearly 3,000 people in hijacked aircraft attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. New York has been singled out often as a potential terrorist target, most recently on Sunday with government warnings of possible truck bomb attacks by al Qaeda on financial centers. Machine-gun toting police on Monday guarded the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup headquarters in Manhattan -- buildings specifically mentioned in the latest alert.

The push to re-open the Statue of Liberty took place as top local elected officials complained bitterly about New York's disproportionately low share of government money for security. Donations of $30 million to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation charity and $6 million from a campaign sponsored by American Express paid for the upgrades, the U.S. National Park Service said. Officials improved emergency exits, created new exits, tightened security screening, overhauled fire control systems and enclosed stairways for safe passage in case of a fire. "We have a vast array of safety and security improvements that are in place today that were not here before 9/11," Larry Parkinson, the U.S. Interior Department official in charge of security said on a visit to the statue.


Visitors will be screened once before they board ferries to Liberty Island, where the statue stands, and a second time before entering the 305-foot (93-metre) tall structure. But the National Park Service, which runs the island, and the Department of Interior have no plans to allow visitors to make the 22-story climb of more than 350 steps to the statue's crown -- something one New York congressman has decried as a "win for the terrorists."

U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, described the reopening of the base, pedestal and observation deck as "no triumph" for the United States in its declared war on terrorism. "If we do not reopen the Statue of Liberty's crown, the terrorists will have won," Weiner said in a statement. "Reopening her feet is no triumph." In testimony in May to the commission that investigated the September 11 attacks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg complained the city had not gotten its fair share of public funds to cope with terrorist threats.

He said New York, with 8 million people, had received only $5.47 per capita in homeland security grants in 2004 -- the second lowest in the United States -- compared to $38.31 per person in Wyoming. The statue's reopening also comes amid congressional criticism that the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation overpaid its executives and improperly oversaw donations.

The Senate Finance Committee has also faulted the nonprofit charity for trying to undermine the fund-raising work of other groups, according to The New York Times.

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