So sorry, but Lady Liberty is not receiving today

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New York

"Excuse me. Can you tell us what has happened?" Antonio Bernardino, from Brazil, is confused. He has a ticket for the boat ride to New York's most famous tourist landmark, Lady Liberty herself, and has been queuing on the wharf, only to be he cannot go.

The explanation - that politicians in Washington cannot agree on a budget and that there is no money to run things - does not ease his befuddlement. "All the money is finished in the United States?" he asks. "But that is ludicrous."

Mr Bernardino and about 50 other tourists, most of them foreign, who are gathered in Battery Park for the ride to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are unlucky. The two sites, run by the National Parks Service, had started the day open. But as the ferry drew in to take the group on board, the announcement came: "Sorry. Stop. We're closed."

Mike Gilson, from San Francisco, had promised the trip to his five-year- old daughter Sarah. Today they must return home. "She really wanted to see the Lady with the fire in her hand. I guess now we have to find some other attraction in New York not controlled by the government."

Most baffled is the delegation of businessmen from China in dark suits and with cameras around their necks. It takes them a while to understand that there is no longer any point queuing by the the empty ferry. Bao Junlong, the only one with any English, finally gets the picture. "But I paid for my ticket, so the government has money now," he insists. Finally he gives up, takes a regretful glance at the statue across the water, and begins to walk back to the street muttering: "And when the Americans come to China, maybe we close the Great Wall."