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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
'Elmo' seized in LA police action
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan joins Elmo on Sesame Street in 2001
Elmo, here with Kofi Annan, is a much-loved TV character
Los Angeles police sparked a surprising sight when they led away real-life versions of cuddly Sesame Street Muppet Elmo and cartoon hero Mr Incredible.

Impersonators of the well-known characters were arrested for allegedly harassing tourists for tips to pose for photos on Hollywood Boulevard.

"With all of the crime in Los Angeles they pick on us?" said Donn Harper, 45, who impersonates Elmo.

LAPD said it was cracking down on what it called "aggressive begging".

Donn Harper, Mr Incredible impersonator Barry Stockton, 42, and Bill Stevens, 54, who impersonates the hooded 'Scream' character, claim they were arrested at gunpoint.

"We were leaving to get something to eat," Mr Stockton told the Los Angeles Times. "We had our heads off and were walking about a block away to our car when they pulled up."

"They jumped out of their cars with guns drawn," said Mr Harper, who says he makes up to $400 a day in tips.

Warning meeting

They claim they were handcuffed and taken by police car to the Hollywood Walk of Fame where they were then paraded in front of shocked tourists and other impersonators.

Police said the trio had been charged with misdemeanour "aggressive begging" and were released on $100 bond each.

The arrests followed a sting operation, with police officers posing as French tourists who did not understand English or the US culture of tipping.

Tourists have reportedly complained that they have been harassed by the impersonators if they have failed to pay up after taking photos of them.

The impersonators were summoned to a meeting by police last month at which they were told solicitation and harassment laws would be enforced.

The LA Times reported that 68 impersonators, many in costume, turned up for the meeting.

"Make no mistake about it - I want the characters to know what we're doing," said Los Angeles police officer Michael Shea.

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