Belgian king offers 'deepest regrets' over 'violence and cruelty' during colonial era
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King Philippe of Belgium acknowledged “acts of violence and cruelty” in Congo, the first such statement by a reigning Belgian king, although he stopped short of a formal apology.

Philippe, writing to Congo's President Felix Tshisekedi, expressed his “deepest regrets” about the “suffering and humiliation” and “acts of violence and cruelty” perpetrated in the colonial era.

“To further strengthen our ties and develop an even more fruitful friendship, we must be able to talk to each other about our long common history in all truth and serenity,” Philippe wrote, according to The Associated Press.

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“At the time of the independent State of the Congo, acts of violence and cruelty were committed that still weigh on our collective memory,” he said, referencing his ancestor King Leopold II’s private ownership of the country from 1885 to 1908.

Leopold is believed to be responsible for the deaths of up to 10 million people in the 19th century, using the country to generate revenue from the production of rubber through forced labor. In addition to millions of deaths, his rule was marked by other atrocities such as the amputation of laborers’ hands for failing to meet quotas.

Statues and monuments to Leopold have been frequent targets of defacement during the protests against racism and police brutality that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis May 25. Local authorities are set to remove a bust of the former king from display in Ghent on Tuesday, according to the AP.

Belgium’s Parliament, meanwhile, has also agreed to form a commission to examine the history of Belgian colonialism.

“In 2020, we must be able to look at this shared past with lucidity and discernment,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes wrote, according to the AP. “Any work of truth and memory begins with the recognition of suffering. Acknowledging the suffering of the other.”