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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.

The statue following its removal.
The statue following its removal.
Image: PA

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 today.

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.

“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.

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Meanwhile in the UK, Labour councils across England and Wales will begin reviewing monuments and statues in their towns and cities, after a protest saw anti-racism campaigners tear down a statue of a slave trader in Bristol.

The Local Government Association’s (LGA) Labour group announced it has asked Labour council leaders to work with their communities to review “the appropriateness” of monuments and statues in their areas.

A statement posted on Twitter, signed by LGA Labour deputy leaders Anntoinette Bramble and Michael Payne, said: “LGA Labour have consulted with all Labour council leaders, and there is overwhelming agreement from all Labour councils that they will listen to and work with their local communities to review the appropriateness of local monuments and statues on public land and council property.” 

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