ANKARA

In an apparent broadside against the drive to take down statues of figures linked to racism, US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he had authorized the government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys historical statues, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison.

“I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent,” Trump said on Twitter.

“This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!” he added.

Trump is known for announcing policy changes on Twitter while not always following through on them.

His move comes amid calls by many to remove statues of figures linked to racism – and in some cases, efforts to take them down without permission – in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, in police custody last month.

Floyd, 46, died after being pinned down on May 25 by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota after reportedly attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill.

Sculptures and monuments honoring figures from the Confederacy, a group of states that tried to leave the US in 1861-1865 to preserve slavery, recently became a target of protesters, with many such statues toppled, vandalized, or decapitated in Washington D.C. and the neighboring state of Virginia, former home of the Confederate capital.

Protesters have pointed out that the Confederate leaders supported an illegal separatist movement, in addition to slavery.

Statues of Christopher Columbus, the 15th-century Italian explorer, were also targeted on the grounds that his voyages laid the groundwork for the violent extermination of local populations.

In Virginia, his statue was dumped in a lake, and another was decapitated in Boston, Massachusetts.

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