US protester removes Confederate flag from state house

Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate Flag from a pole at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.
Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate Flag from a pole at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.REUTERS

COLUMBIA, United States (AFP) - A protester scaled a flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina legislature on Saturday and removed the Confederate flag, officials said, amid fierce debate about the racially charged symbol.

The black woman climber was arrested as soon as she came down from the 9m-high pole, and a new flag was restored to the original position within an hour.

Pictures on social media showed a woman, named as Bree Newsome, 30, being escorted by an officer, her hands behind her back.

#FreeBree was trending on Twitter within hours of the dawn incident.

Also arrested was a 30-year-old white man named as James Ian Tyson. Both are from neighbouring North Carolina and have been charged with defacing a monument.

"A BPS officer was on routine patrol and had just made rounds when he was notified by other officers monitoring the flag that a woman was climbing the flagpole where the Confederate flag flies on the north side of the state house," said a statement from South Carolina Department of Public Safety.

BPS means Bureau of Protective Services.

"He returned to the flagpole and asked the woman, who was wearing climbing gear, to get off the flagpole.

"She refused to come down until she unhooked the flag. The BPS officer arrested her and another man who was inside the wrought iron fence assisting her."

There has been a growing clamour for the flag - branded "a reminder of systemic oppression and racist subjugation" by President Barack Obama on Friday - to be removed from the grounds of the state house in Columbia.

Once flown by the rebel army of the slave-owning South, the confederate flag is seen by some as a symbol of regional heritage, but by many more as an ugly reminder of racism's cruel legacy.

Impassioned debate about the flag was sparked by the mass shooting of nine black worshippers last week in Charleston, also in South Carolina.

The white alleged supremacist gunman, Dylann Roof, 21, later appeared in disturbing photos online with the flag.

In the wake of the attack, many government bodies and private firms have moved to take the flag from view, and several politicians have spoken out against its use.

Several major retailers have stopped selling flag merchandise.

As well as stirring debate about America's racial divide, the Charleston massacre also fed the frustration felt by many at the country's failure to control its gun culture.