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Jesus statue cited by city singed by fire

ST. PAUL, Minn., April 11 (UPI) -- A man's back yard statue of Jesus that last week was ordered moved by the St. Paul, Minn., City Council was scorched by an arsonist Sunday, police said.

Mai Pham spotted the fire burning around the base of the 7-foot-tall, white marble statue about 6 a.m., the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. The statue was discolored by the fire and a second statue nearby was more seriously damaged, the newspaper said. A burned aerosol can and matches were found nearby.

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Pham's husband Tuan commissioned the statue, which is a replica of a much larger version in his native Vietnam, and thought he had city approval for its placement. But someone complained to the city, the Board of Zoning denied his appeal to keep it and last Wednesday, the City Council ruled the statue has to go because it is too close to the Mississippi River bluff.

"This not only hurts our family. It hurts ... Vietnamese refugees around the country," Tuan Pham said, adding later many Vietnamese refugees came to the United States for the freedom it offers for people to express their beliefs.

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The Jesus statue has been attacked by vandals in the past. Someone shot a paintball at it shortly after it was installed last September. Other statues and decorations in the Phams' yard also have been damaged in the past, the Pioneer Press said.

"I can say 99 percent of my neighbors love it, but not everybody does," Tuan Pham said.

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