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Native Hawaiians take over palace in Honolulu

A Native Hawaiian group has locked the gates of Iolani Palace and taken over the grounds of the major downtown Honolulu tourist attraction.
Palace Takeover
A sign is posted on the gate of the Iolani Palace in Honolulu on Wednesday. A Native Hawaiian group that advocates sovereignty has locked the gates of the historic palace, saying it would carry out the business of what it considers the legitimate government of the islands.Marco Garcia / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Native Hawaiian group that advocates sovereignty locked the gates of a historic palace in downtown Honolulu on Wednesday, saying it would carry out the business of what it considers the legitimate government of the islands.

State deputy sheriffs weren't allowing anyone else to enter Iolani Palace grounds as unarmed security guards from the Hawaiian Kingdom Government group blocked all gates to the palace, which is adjacent to the state Capitol.

The group said it learned from Honolulu Police Chief Boisse Correa that arrest warrants were being prepared for the 60 or so protesters and would probably be served later in the day. Police have not confirmed that to The Associated Press.

Protest leaders said they were prepared to be arrested and would go peacefully.

Don't recognize Hawaii as state
Protest leader Mahealani Kahau said the group doesn't recognize Hawaii as a U.S. state. Supporters planned to keep the protest peaceful and if evicted would return later, she said.

The group is one of several Hawaiian sovereignty organizations in the islands, which became the 50th U.S. state in 1959.

The ornate Iolani Palace is operated as a museum. Hawaiian King Kalakaua built it in 1882, and it also served as the residence for his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani, the islands' last ruling monarch.

It was neglected after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 and restored in the 1970s as a National Historic Landmark. It includes a gift shop and is open for school groups and paid tours.

"The Hawaiian Kingdom Government is here and it doesn't plan to leave. This is a continuity of the Hawaiian Kingdom of 1892 to today," said Kahau, who was elected head of state of the group seven years ago.

The protesters aren't damaging anything in the palace grounds, Kahau said. Workers inside the palace itself had locked the doors and were not letting them inside.

"We will not resist, we won't fight, we won't be aggressive. But we'll be back for sure," Kahau said.

Protester vow to return
No matter what happened Wednesday, the protesters planned to return to the palace Thursday, she said.

State Sen. Kalani English — a Native Hawaiian and a Democrat from East Maui-Lanai-Molokai — came over from the Capitol to speak with some of the protesters, and had his staff take them food.

"This is the manifestation of the frustration of the Hawaiian people for the loss of sovereignty and land," English said.

"It is symbolic. This made a statement. It got the word out about the plight of the Hawaiian people," he said.

Richard Kinney, who described himself as an independent Hawaiian nationalist, said he went to the Capitol to show his support. He carried an upside-down Hawaii state flag, signaling distress.

"The sovereignty of these islands is inherent to the Hawaiian people, and we've never relinquished that," he said.

"Occupying any land, including Iolani Palace, is the beginning," Kinney said.

Kippen de Alba Chu, executive director of Iolani Palace, issued a statement that said the protesters delivered a written message to palace officials claiming the grounds as the seat of their government.

"While we respect the freedom of Hawaiian groups to hold an opinion on the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, we believe that blocking public access to Iolani Palace is wrong and certainly detrimental to our mission to share the palace and its history with our residents, our keiki (children) and our visitors," Chu said.