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Little Mermaid back on home perch in Denmark

Denmark's Little Mermaid received applause and trumpet fanfares on Saturday as the famous statue was reinstalled at its home perch in Copenhagen harbor after spending six months in China.

The landmark had left Denmark for the first time in its 97-year history in April to become the centerpiece of the Danish pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo.

The move raised controversy since some Danes considered it disrespectful to ship a cultural treasure and major tourist attraction across the globe in a public relations gesture. But the statue also has repeatedly been vandalized in Copenhagen.

At Saturday's installment ceremony, the city's mayor, Frank Jensen, reassured the welcoming crowd of nearly 200 people that the statue's voyage had been "a once in a lifetime trip" and that there are no near-term plans to do so again.

"Now she is back and is going to have some rest on her stone," he said, adding that it had felt like a family member leaving for a long journey when the statue was sent away.

"It's nice to have her back, I missed her. Her spot looked so empty," said Kirsten Geertsen, a 74-year-old resident who takes walks by the harbor daily.

During the mermaid's absence, a video installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei showed a live broadcast of the statue in Shanghai. But, said Geertsen, "seeing her on a screen wasn't the same."

At the ceremony, a crane smoothly lifted the 5-foot (1.5-meter) statue from a truck and onto its rocky corner of Copenhagen harbor.

The fishtailed bronze is one of Denmark's most popular tourist attractions, drawing an estimated 1 million visitors a year. At the May 1-Oct. 31 World Expo, Little Mermaid drew 5.6 million viewers — equal to Denmark's population.

The statue was inspired by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale about a mermaid who falls in love with a prince and must wait 300 years to become human.

Created by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen, the statue was unveiled in the Copenhagen harbor in August 1913 and — apart from China — had not been moved except to undergo repairs.

Such repairs often were the result of vandalism.

The Little Mermaid was beheaded in 1964, and a replacement was cast from the original mold.

Twenty years later, the statue's right arm was cut off and it was decapitated again in 1998.

The statue has been repeatedly doused in paint, and in 2003 it was blown off its stone base by vandals using explosives.

The following year the Little Mermaid was draped in a burqa, apparently by critics of Turkey's bid to join the European Union.