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Man shot during protest over Spanish conqueror’s statue

The incident took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Demonstrators climb the statue of Don Juan de Onate in Old Town in Albuquerque (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

Demonstrators climb the statue of Don Juan de Onate in Old Town in Albuquerque (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

Demonstrators climb the statue of Don Juan de Onate in Old Town in Albuquerque (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

A man has been shot during a confrontation between protesters and a group of armed civilians trying to protect a statue of a Spanish conquistador outside Albuquerque Museum.

Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the man is in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

The city has announced that the statue of Juan de Onate would be removed until officials determine the next steps.

A confrontation erupted between protesters and a group of armed men who were trying to protect the statue before protesters wrapped a chain around it and began tugging on it, while chanting: “Tear it down.”

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Albuquerque police detain members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian group, following the shooting of a man during a protest over the statue (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

Albuquerque police detain members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian group, following the shooting of a man during a protest over the statue (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

AP/PA Images

Albuquerque police detain members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, an armed civilian group, following the shooting of a man during a protest over the statue (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

One protester repeatedly swung a pick-axe at the base of the statue.

Moments later, gunshots could be heard down the street and people started yelling that someone had been shot.

Mr Gallegos said police used tear gas and stun grenades to protect the officers who intervened and detained those involved in the shooting.

He said they were disarmed and taken into custody for questioning as police worked to secure the scene.

The police spokesman said detectives are investigating with the help of the FBI.

“The shooting tonight was a tragic, outrageous and unacceptable act of violence and it has no place in our city,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement.

“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.”

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Protesters attach a chain to the statue (Anthony Jackson/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

Protesters attach a chain to the statue (Anthony Jackson/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

AP/PA Images

Protesters attach a chain to the statue (Anthony Jackson/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

Democrat governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a statement in which she took aim at the armed individuals, saying they were there to menace protesters.

She said no matter who strikes first, there would be no room in New Mexico for any sort of escalation of what she called “reckless, violent rhetoric”.

She said: “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.”

The violence came just hours after activists in northern New Mexico celebrated the removal of another likeness of Onate on public display at a cultural centre in the community of Alcalde.

Rio Arriba County officials removed it to safeguard it from possible damage and to avoid civil unrest ahead of a scheduled protest.

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The armed civilian group had been trying to protect the statue (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

The armed civilian group had been trying to protect the statue (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

AP/PA Images

The armed civilian group had been trying to protect the statue (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal/AP)

A forklift pried the massive bronze statue of Onate on horseback from a concrete pedestal. Cheers erupted among bystanders who saw the memorial as an affront to indigenous people and an obstacle to greater racial harmony, though several people also arrived to defend the tribute to Onate.

County manager Tomas Campos said the statue was placed in storage for its own protection.

He expects the three-member county commission to solicit public comment on what to do next with the public works project commissioned by the state in the early 1990s.

“This is public property and I’m not going to allow it to be damaged,” Mr Campos said. “Plus, I don’t feel like risking my sheriff’s deputies or state police to defend it.”

The Onate statues have been a source of criticism for decades.

Onate, who arrived in present-day New Mexico in 1598, is celebrated as a cultural father figure in communities along the Upper Rio Grande that trace their ancestry to Spanish settlers. But he is also reviled for his brutality.

To Native Americans, Onate is known for having ordered the right feet cut off of 24 captive tribal warriors that was precipitated by the killing of Onate’s nephew.

In 1998, someone sawed the right foot off the statue — an incident that weighed in the decision to stash away the statue.

Luis Pena of Espanola, an artist and computer network engineer, started a public petition last week to remove the statue in Alcalde. He said he was heartened to see it taken off display.

By Monday evening, dozens had joined a celebratory gathering with Native American dancing and drumming outside the cultural centre where demonstrators left hand prints in red paint on the empty statue pedestal.

PA