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Key West to Conch-er closed federal park

Indignant once again with the United States government, the rebellious Conch Republic will challenge the feds today with an invasion of Fort Jefferson in the isolated Dry Tortugas islands. Closure of the fort as part of the federal shutdown has infuriated locals here.

As Conch Republic dignitaries descend on the park, three seaplanes that normally ferry tourists to the island and three antique airplanes will bomb the fort with stale Cuban bread.

The Conch Republic's troops will deliver $1,600 to pay for running the park for a day.

"We're planning to go to shore, present them with a check and declare the park open," said Peter Anderson, secretary general of the Conch Republic.

Park officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

Because of the stalemate in budget negotiations in Washington, Everglades Park and the Dry Tortugas are closed to the public. Tour operators have complained bitterly that they are losing thousands of dollars worth of business every day, particularly this week, a high point of the tourist season.

The Conch Republic, a half-serious manifestation of the island's independent streak, was founded in 1982 over another impasse: the U.S. Border Patrol had set up a road blockade on U.S. 1 to check cars coming and going into the Keys for drugs and illegal aliens. Tourist traffic came to a halt.

In protest, Mayor Dennis Wardlow seceded from the Union, declared war, surrendered and asked for foreign aid. Ever since, the Conches wave a blue flag to protest Washington's disagreeable dictates and celebrate Key West's autonomous spirit.

"What we're hoping to accomplish," Anderson said, "is to thoroughly embarrass the federal government and elected officials who are responsible for this awful situation."

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