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Students and protesters surround plinth where the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam once stood, on the University of North Carolina campus after a demonstration for its removal in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

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By Jonathan Drake

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (Reuters) - University of North Carolina police on Tuesday were reviewing video to find the protesters who toppled a statue of Confederate soldier on campus, part of a recent movement to dismantle U.S. Civil War symbols that critics say glorify the South's legacy of slavery.

About 300 demonstrators gathered on Monday evening for a protest and march at the base of Silent Sam, a memorial erected in 1913 to soldiers of the pro-slavery Confederacy killed during the Civil War. Protesters pulled the statue down with rope, cheering as it lay face down in the mud, its head and back covered in dirt.

The university system's board chair, Harry Smith, and president, Margaret Spellings, denounced the toppling of the statue in a joint statement.

"The actions last evening were unacceptable, dangerous, and incomprehensible," they said. "We are a nation of laws and mob rule and the intentional destruction of public property will not be tolerated.”

Last year UNC students threatened to sue the school, alleging that the university violated federal anti-discrimination laws by allowing the statue to remain on campus.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement he shared protesters "frustration" over statues but condemned the violent destruction of public property.

Campus police arrested at least one person at the protest for wearing a mask and resisting arrest, according to Audrey Smith, a university spokeswoman.

The efforts by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam gained momentum three years ago after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

Since then, more than 110 symbols of the Confederacy have been removed across the nation with more than 1,700 still standing, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group. Many of the monuments were erected in the early 20th century, decades after the Civil War's end in 1865.

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was vandalised and later removed by school officials last year at neighbouring Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Many Americans see such statues as symbols of racism and glorifications of the southern states' defence of slavery. Others view them as important symbols of American history.

The head of the United Daughters of the Confederacy said on Tuesday the group denounced hate groups and asked people to leave Confederate monuments alone.

"We are grieved that certain hate groups have taken the Confederate flag and other symbols as their own," the group's president, Patricia Bryson, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Jonathan Drake; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)

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Reuters