Who was Leopold II, why did Belgium’s Antwerp remove his statue?

Belgium’s 19th-century king becomes the symbol of the country’s anti-racist movement due to his brutal colonial past.

The Belgian port city of Antwerp has taken down a statue of late King Leopold II after it was daubed with paint by anti-racism protesters.

Statues of the 19th-century king have long been a target of activists because of his record of brutal colonial rule in Belgium’s former central African colonies.

The movement has gained momentum in recent days after an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, was killed in the United States at the hands of a white policeman, triggering a global wave of protest.

Johan Vermant, a spokesman for Antwerp’s mayor Bart de Wever, said the statue was removed on Tuesday to be repaired, but it probably would not be returned to its public pedestal.

Leopold II’s story

Leopold II was the king of the Belgians from 1865 to 1909, the longest reign in the young kingdom’s short independent history, and is honoured with several monuments.

His record in Belgium’s African colonies, where he ran and exploited the then “Congo Free State” as a personal domain, is much more controversial.

According to historians, Belgian rule of what is now the independent Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was brutal even by the standards of European empires of the era.

Millions of Congolese were killed or maimed working in rubber plantations and in military expeditions while Leopold amassed a huge personal fortune.

“In the space of 23 years this man killed more than 10 million Congolese without ever having set foot in the Congo,” read an online petition to have every statue of Leopold II torn down in Belgium.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies