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‘The time for plaques is over’: Leopold II statue removed in Belgium

The Belgian king’s colonial rule is estimated to have cost the lives of millions of Congolese.

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The statue had already been defaced and torched (Ilse de Schutter)

The statue had already been defaced and torched (Ilse de Schutter)

The statue had already been defaced and torched (Ilse de Schutter)

A statue of Belgian king Leopold II has been removed by local authorities in Antwerp – in a move which a city guide says councils across the world must learn from.

Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd have prompted numerous calls for sculptures of Leopold II to be removed – in sentiments similar to those which resulted in a statue of slave trader Edward Colston to be felled in Bristol over the weekend.

During his reign in the late 19th century, the Belgian monarch became the personal ruler of the Congo in an exploitative regime estimated to have cost the lives of millions from the African nation.

His 1873 monument in the Ekeren district of Antwerp was removed on Tuesday.

It had been set on fire and smeared with red paint in recent days, despite local authorities adding a plaque explaining Leopold’s colonial rule.

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The statue in Antwerp was removed on Tuesday (Ilse de Schutter)

The statue in Antwerp was removed on Tuesday (Ilse de Schutter)

The statue in Antwerp was removed on Tuesday (Ilse de Schutter)

“Good riddance,” Niel Staes, a city tour guide from Antwerp told the PA news agency.

“The message to city councils should be that the time for plaques is over.

“If you really want to preserve these obsolete elements of history, you either have to change the context dramatically within the public space or move it to a museum.

“If you don’t, I’m afraid the choice of their fate will be made by others. And you might not like the result.”

The 39-year-old added the statue had been set to be removed in the coming years, but this was brought forward amid the protests, and it will now be restored before likely ending up in a museum.

June 30 marks the 60th anniversary of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independence from Belgium.

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(Ilse de Schutter)

(Ilse de Schutter)

(Ilse de Schutter)

“I think you’ll see a lot of effects of today’s movement by then – not only in Antwerp, but also in Brussels for example,” said Mr Staes.

“But, and I think that the most important part – the debate is still divisive.

“Even when we’re talking about people made from bronze or stone, emotions run high.

“I think that says a lot about the way we still have to go when it comes to people made from flesh and blood.”

PA