Climate activists block traffic in U.S. capital, chain themselves to sailboat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Activists seeking to pressure U.S. politicians to tackle climate change blocked major traffic hubs in the U.S. capital on Monday, chaining themselves to a sailboat in the middle of a street, while police arrested 26 protesters.

The activists were drawing attention to a U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York where more than 60 world leaders were expected to appear, including ones from small island states most at risk from rising sea levels. Companies were expected to make fresh pledges to cut emissions of greenhouse gases at the summit.

Activists targeted locations in Washington, D.C. including Farragut Square, Columbus Circle, near the Union Station train terminal and at Folger Park on Capitol Hill.

Just north of the White House, at 16th Street and K Street, activists pushed a small sailboat into the middle of the intersection and chained themselves to it. Police arrived with a power saw to free the protesters, draping them with heavy blankets to protect them from flying sparks, and called a truck to haul the boat away.

About 200 protesters chanted nearby: “It’s dire, It’s dire, the house is on fire!”

“I’m fighting for our future because if things continue as they are with fossil fuel extractive industries... increasing greenhouse gases there’s not going to be a good future for anyone,” said Arielle Welch, 23, a volunteer for the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit group.

The protest, called Shut Down DC, was backed by about two dozen groups, including the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, Extinction Rebellion D.C. and Black Lives Matter D.C.

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Alaina Gertz, a spokeswoman for the Washington metropolitan police department, said the arrests were made for blocking traffic.

Extinction Rebellion, which says it is backed by hundreds of scientists, promotes non-violent civil disobedience to press governments to cut carbon emissions and avert a climate crisis it fears will bring starvation and social collapse.

Over 11 days in April, the group disrupted parts of London, stopping trains and defacing the building of energy giant Shell.

Protesters aim to pressure U.S. officials who are helping to make Washington an obstacle in international climate negotiations, said Kaela Bamberger, a spokeswoman for Extinction Rebellion, D.C.

President Donald Trump who intends to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris accord, has rolled back Obama-era rules on emission cuts and wants to maximize U.S. energy output.

Monday’s protest also seeks to support the climate strikes of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who traveled to New York in a sailboat and is participating in the U.N. summit.

“I don’t want to be here really, but I have to... I don’t have a choice,” said Maria, a 15-year-old high school student from Virginia who skipped school and did not want to give her last name.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Dan Grebler and David Gregorio