A statue of Leopold II in Antwerp was set on fire during the night, marking the second time in days that monuments to the former colonial king are defaced as anti-racism protests in the US spread worldwide.
The damage to the statue of the polarising monarch was discovered by a local resident early on Thursday morning, with the figure’s sword lying partly on the ground after becoming loose from the flames, De Standaard reports.
The statue, located in the Ekeren district of Antwerp, had already been defaced at the weekend, with smears of red paint from the previous act still visible under Thursday’s damage. Authorities are conducting an investigation and looking for potential witnesses.
The incident comes only a day after a Leopold II bust in Ghent was splashed in red paint and marked: ‘I can’t breathe,’ the final words of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose death at the hands of US police has sparked nationwide uprisings over police brutality and systemic racism.
Both statues’ defacement comes amid a wave of support for the removal of all monuments built to honour the former king, who brutalised Congolese people during the years he exploited the territory for his personal gain.
At least two petitions have been launched to remove the monuments, with one gathering over 30,000 signatures in two days’ time and the other attracting global attention after it was launched by a 14-year-old teen.
It is unclear what will be done with the Antwerp statue.
It had previously been outfitted with a sign in an attempt to provide historical context about Leopold’s colonial rule, and it is reportedly set to be removed during renovations of the surrounding area planned for 2023.