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Victims' families protest removal of Sept. 11 artifact from display

NEW YORK -- A 45,000-pound sphere sculpture that emerged largely intact from the rubble of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11 attacks faces an uncertain future as officials prepare to remove it from the park where it has been on display for a decade.

"The Sphere," originally dedicated as a monument to world peace through trade, became an interim memorial in the months after Sept. 11. A year after the attacks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai and officials from about 90 nations at its base to light an eternal flame.

Nearly a decade later, the eternal flame could be snuffed out, and there is no permanent plan for the 25-foot-high structure made of bronze and steel. Officials said last week that it will be removed by the end of the month to make way for renovations to Battery Park, which has been home to the sculpture.

Some family members of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks have gathered thousands of signatures in an online petition urging officials to incorporate the sculpture into the Sept. 11 memorial and return it to the spot where it once stood as a centerpiece of a 5-acre plaza. Originally, Bloomberg said the battered globe would likely serve as a centerpiece for a permanent memorial, but it wasn't included in the plans.

Michael Burke, who lost his brother in the attacks and has been helping lead the effort to get the sphere returned to the plaza, called the sculpture's exclusion a disgrace.

"It's the last remaining intact artifact of the trade center," he said. "It represents the triumph of the values attacked -- of peace and cooperation -- over the terrorism, the hatred and intolerance that attacked."

As for the eternal flame, plans call for the gas line that feeds the fire to be turned off. But Julie Wood, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the city is still evaluating what should be done. "We're looking at a variety of options," she said.

Ron Marsico, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which commissioned the statue in 1971, said that Battery Park had never been intended as a permanent home for it. The agency may place the sphere in an airport hangar where other World Trade Center artifacts are being stored, he said.

"We are exploring options on where it will be located in the short term," he said.

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