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British slave trader’s statue toppled in anti-racism protests

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British protesters tore down the statue of a renowned slave trader and threw it in the harbour on the second day of weekend protests against George Floyd's death.

Footage shot by a witness showed a few dozen people tie a rope around the neck of Edward Colston's statue and bring it to the ground in the southwestern city of Bristol.

They then stamped on it for a few minutes before carrying it and shoving it into the harbour with a great cheer.

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Colston's face got splashed with red paint at one point.

"Today I witness history," eye witness William Want tweeted.

"The statue of Edward Colston, a Bristol slave trader, was torn down, defaced, and thrown in the river. #BlackLivesMatter."

Protesters pose for a photograph in front of the defaced statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill, with the words (Churchill) "was a racist" written on it's base in Parliament Square, central London after a demonstration outside the US Embassy, on June 7, 2020, organised to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck in Minneapolis. - Taking a knee, banging drums and ignoring social distancing measures, outraged protesters from Sydney to London on Saturday kicked off a weekend of global rallies against racism and police brutality. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)


But Home Secretary Priti Patel called the toppling "utterly disgraceful" and police in the city promised to carry out an investigation.

"That speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have now become a distraction from the cause which the people are actually protesting about," Patel told Sky News.

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"That is a completely unacceptable act and speaks to the vandalism, again, as we saw yesterday in London."

The London police reported making 29 arrests during a day of largely peaceful protests Saturday that included a few scuffles with the police.

Local police chief Andy Bennett said around 10,000 people attended Bristol's "Black Lives Matter" demonstration on Sunday.

"The vast majority of those who came to voice their concerns about racial inequality and injustice did so peacefully and respectfully," he said.

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"However, there was a small group of people who clearly committed an act of criminal damage in pulling down a statue near Bristol Harbourside."

Colston grew up in a wealthy merchant family and joined a company in 1680 that had a monopoly on the west African slave trade.

The Royal African Company was formally headed by the brother of King Charles II who later took the throne as James II.

The company was transporting about 5,000 slaves a year to the Caribbean by the time Colston joined.

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He later developed a reputation as a philanthropist who donated to charitable causes such as schools and hospitals in Bristol and London.

His statue stood on Bristol's Colston's Avenue. The city also has a school named in his honour.

UK opposition Labour party lawmaker Clive Lewis welcomed the statue's removal by the crowd.

"Good," Lewis tweeted.

"Someone responsible for immeasurable blood & suffering. We’ll never solve structural racism till we get to grips with our history in all its complexity. #BLM"

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