King Leopold II statue removed after Belgian protesters set it on fire

King Leopold II statue removed after Belgian protesters set it on fire
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A statue of former Belgian King Leopold II was removed by officials in the city of Antwerp on Tuesday after Black Lives Matter protesters set it on fire.

The statue depicts Leopold, whose reign ran from 1865 and 1909 and is known for his oppressive rule over what is now Congo, which was his personal property before becoming a Belgian colony. As many as 10 million Congolese people died under Leopold, according to The Washington Post.

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Protesters, gathered as part of the global reaction to George Floyd's death in the custody of Minneapolis police, reportedly painted the statue red before setting it on fire, Politico reported

Mayor Koen Palinckx, who runs the Ekeren district where the statue was located, told the magazine Knack the statue was being removed for “thorough restoration,” according to a translation from Politico. He said the statue could return, but it’s more likely to appear in a museum.

“The statue is in fact part of our historical heritage. You have to take care of that,” Palinckx said.

Protests over the death of Floyd have broken out in Belgian cities including Brussels, Ostend and Ghent. The phrase “I can’t breathe,” Floyd’s final words, have been painted on Leopold statues. 

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Floyd’s death reinvigorated a push in the country for statues of Leopold to be removed, along with his name from street signs, squares and public transport stops. A petition for the movement on Change.org has received more than 64,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.