In Belgian town, monuments expose a troubled colonial legacy

In this Wednesday, June 10, 2020 file photo, a statue of Belgium's King Leopold II is smeared with red paint and graffiti in Brussels. Five mixed-race women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers have filed a lawsuit for crimes against humanity targeting the Belgian state. (AP)
Updated 27 June 2020

In Belgian town, monuments expose a troubled colonial legacy

  • Protests sweeping the world that followed the death of George Floyd are focusing attention on Europe’s colonial past and racism of the present

HALLE, Belgium: For a long time, few people in the small Belgian town of Halle paid much attention to the monuments. They were just fixtures in a local park, tributes to great men of the past.
But these are very different times, and yesterday’s heroes can be today’s racist villains.
And so it was that three weeks ago, a bust of Leopold II, the Belgian king who has been held responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese, was spattered in red paint, labeled “Murderer,” and later knocked off its pedestal.
Nearby, a pale sandstone statue formally known as the “Monument to the Colonial Pioneers” has stood for 93 years. It depicts a naked Congolese boy offering a bowl of fruit in gratitude to Lt. Gen. Baron Alphonse Jacques de Dixmude, a Belgian soldier accused of atrocities in Africa.
These monuments, and others across Europe, are coming under scrutiny as never before, no longer a collective blind spot on the moral conscience of the public. Protests sweeping the world that followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed last month by Minneapolis police, are focusing attention on Europe’s colonial past and racism of the present.
Eric Baranyanka, a 60-year-old musician who came to Halle as a refugee from Belgium’s African colony of Burundi when was 3, said he has always found the statue of Jacques “humiliating.”
“I had this pride being who I was. It was in complete contradiction with that statue,” he said.
But Halle Mayor Marc Snoeck appears to be more representative of his citizenry. He said he “never really noticed” the monuments until an anti-colonial group raised awareness of them a dozen years ago in the town of 40,000 people about 15 kilometers (10 miles) south of Brussels.
“I’m part of an older generation and I heard precious little during my studies about colonialism, the Congo Free State and the Belgian Congo,” said the 66-year-old Snoeck, noting he was taught about how Europeans brought civilization, not exploitation and death, to the heart of Africa.
Statues of Leopold, who reigned from 1865 to 1909, have been defaced in a half-dozen cities, including Antwerp, where one was burned and had to be removed for repairs. It’s unclear if it will ever come back.
But Leopold is hardly the only focus. Snoeck found it remarkable that protesters have not targeted the statue of Jacques, which he called “possibly even worse.”
The mayor said the statue is known locally as “The White Negro,” because of the hue of the sandstone depicting the Congolese youth offering the fruit to the colonial-era Belgian who condoned or was responsible for murders, rapes and maiming workers in the Congo Free State.
Baranyanka was lovingly raised by a white foster family in Halle and said he never experienced prejudice until after he had been in Belgium for about a decade.
His 98-year-old foster mother Emma Monsaert recalls others in town asking her if she was really going to take in a Black youth in the 1960s: “I said, ‘Why not, it is a child after all.’”
But at school, Baranyanka found out how others felt about race.
One teacher poured salt on his head, he recalled, saying it would make it whiter. When he wanted a part in a school play of the 17th century fairy tale “Puss in Boots,” he was denied a role, with a teacher telling him: “Mr. Baranyanka, in those days there were no Blacks in Europe.”
He counts himself lucky to have had a close circle of friends that survives to this day. As a teenager, he often talked to them about the monuments, his African roots and Leopold’s legacy.
“They understood, and they were grateful I explained it,” he said.
On Tuesday, Congo celebrates 60 years of independence from Belgium. The city of Ghent will remove a statue of Leopold to mark the anniversary and perhaps take a healing step forward.
Eunice Yahuma, a local leader of a group called Belgian Youth Against Racism and the youth division of the Christian Democrats, knows about Belgium’s troubled history.
“Many people don’t know the story, because it is not being told. Somehow they know, ‘Let’s not discuss this, because it is grim history,’” said Yahuma, who has Congolese roots. “It is only now that we have this debate that people start looking into this.”
The spirit of the times is different, she said.
“Black people used to be less vocal. They felt the pain, but they didn’t discuss it. Now, youth is very outspoken and we give our opinion,” Yahuma added.
History teachers like 24-year-old Andries Devogel are trying to infuse their lessons with the context of colonialism.
“Within the next decade, they will be expecting us to stress the impact of colonialism on current-day society, that colonialism and racism are inextricably linked,” Devogel said. “Is contemporary racism not the consequence of a colonial vision? How can you exploit a people if you are not convinced of their second-class status?”
The colonial era brought riches to Belgium, and the city of Halle benefited, building a rail yard that brought jobs. Native son Franz Colruyt started a business that grew into the supermarket giant Colruyt Group with 30,000 employees — one of them Baranyanka’s foster father.
Halle has escaped the violence seen in other cities from the protests, and officials would rather focus attention on its Gothic church, the Basilica of St. Martin, as well as its famous fields of bluebells and Geuze beer.
Baranyanka, who will soon stage a musical show of his life called “De Zwette,” — ”The Black One,” returned recently to the park and the monuments.
Despite the hostility and humiliation he felt as a youngster, he didn’t consider their destruction as the way to go.
“Vandalism produces nothing, perhaps only the opposite effect. And you see that suddenly such racism surges again,” he said. “It breeds polarization again. This thing of ‘us against them.’”
Devogel, the teacher, says it is the task of education “to let kids get in touch with history.”
“Otherwise, it will remain a copper bust without meaning,” he said of the Leopold II monument. “And you will never realize why, for all these people, it is so deeply insulting.”


1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

Updated 18 June 2021

1 dead, 12 injured in metro Phoenix, the latest in gun-crazy US

  • Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes

SURPRISE, Arizona: One person was killed and 12 others injured in reported drive-by shootings over a 90-minute span Thursday in three cities west of Phoenix, authorities said.
A suspect was in custody, and authorities said a weapon was found in his vehicle. But it remained unclear if the man was responsible for all of the shootings.
The suspect’s name wasn’t immediately released. Authorities believe he acted alone, although a motive wasn’t immediately known.
“We don’t know the nexus, we don’t know what the motive was, we don’t have an idea of what this person was thinking when he went out and did this,” Peoria police spokesman Brandon Sheffert said at a news conference. “Obviously we want to figure this out because there’s a lot of scared people and people this affected.”
Police departments in Peoria, Surprise and Glendale were investigating the shootings in their cities, along with the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the FBI.
Authorities were combing through at least eight separate shooting scenes, Sheffert said.
Four people suffered gunshot wounds, and one of those victims died, he said. That person was found dead in a vehicle along a Peoria freeway.
The other victims had a range of injuries such as shrapnel from broken glass or injuries related to a car crash, Sheffert said.
Officials at Banner Health said they received nine patients at three of their hospitals. But the extent of the victims’ injuries and their conditions were not immediately released.
Peoria police got the initial call about a shooting shortly after 11 a.m., and eight more incidents were reported in the following 90 minutes, Sheffert said.
Witnesses provided authorities with a description of the getaway vehicle, and the suspect was detained after a traffic stop in Surprise.


Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

Updated 18 June 2021

Bangladeshi COVID-19 vaccine gets conditional clearance for human trials

  • Bangavax is a new generation mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, but is expected to be cheaper
  • Bangladesh Medical Research Council requires Bangavax producer to first conduct trials on monkeys or chimpanzees

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities have conditionally cleared the country’s first coronavirus vaccine for clinical trials, which the producer expects to complete in the next few months.

The vaccine, Bangavax, is a new generation mRNA vaccine that, like the Pfizer and Moderna ones, teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. Developed by Dhaka-based Globe Biotech Ltd. (GBL), the vaccine was approved for production by the country’s drug regulator in late December.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC) approved clinical trials of Bangavax under the condition that “before starting any human trial, the vaccine producing company needs to conduct an animal trial on monkeys or chimpanzees,” BMRC director Prof. Dr Ruhul Amin said.

GBL has been waiting for the trial approval since January.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Amin said. “However, we are doing our best to facilitate the trials of Bangavax.”

Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin, head of quality at GBL, said that while the company is now waiting for the BMRC’s written recommendations, it is preparing to start the trials.

“It will take us eight to nine months to complete the whole process,” he said. “Since we are using pure mRNA technology in Bangavax and no virus is used in this process, we are supposedly not required to make an animal trial.” He said that GBL was in touch with organizations abroad as there is no institution conducting animal trials in Bangladesh.

“To run an animal trial, some foreign companies are asking for a G2G — government to government contract. We hope the government should extend help to us in this case,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

As Bangavax is estimated to cost $10-$15, several dollars cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it may help Bangladesh with its immunization drive, in which only 2.6 percent of the country’s 166 million people has been vaccinated so far, mainly due to a shortage of COVID-19 jabs.

FASTFACT

Dr. Mohammed Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh ‘ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.’

GBL says it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses a month, and its lab tests on mice suggest that one dose would suffice.

“We are expecting that it will be a single dose vaccine as we found about 100 percent efficacy rate during lab trial on mice,” Dr. Mohiuddin said.

Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser at the state-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said if Bangavax trials prove successful they would position Bangladesh “ahead in the vaccine race amid this global crisis period.”

“They (GBL) should be provided with necessary administrative and financial support as and when required. But the highest level of precaution is a must at every stage of the trials,” he said.

“If we become successful in this endeavor, Bangladesh may consider exporting vaccine to other developing countries after meeting local demand.”


Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

Updated 17 June 2021

Security should have confronted Manchester bomber: inquiry

  • The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi
  • Inquiry heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the show’s end

LONDON: Security teams at Britain’s Manchester Arena “should have prevented or minimized” the impact of the 2017 terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people, a public inquiry found Thursday.
The attack, as concert-goers were leaving the show, was perpetrated by 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a Mancunian of Libyan descent.
In a report examining security measures at the venue in northwest England, inquiry chairman John Saunders said Arena operator SMG, security provider Showsec and British Transport Police all missed opportunities to either prevent or mitigate the attack, which took place on May 22, 2017.
“The security arrangements for the Manchester Arena should have prevented or minimized the devastating impact of the attack,” he wrote.
“Salman Abedi should have been identified on 22nd May 2017 as a threat by those responsible for the security of Arena and a disruptive intervention undertaken.
“Had that occurred, I consider it likely that Salman Abedi would still have detonated his device, but the loss of life and injury is highly likely to have been less,” he added.
The inquiry had heard that an officer from British Transport Police was supposed to be present in the foyer of the arena at the end of the show, where the bomb was detonated, but nobody was there.
A Showsec security guard also told the inquiry that he had a “bad feeling” when he saw Abedi around five minutes before the attack, but did not approach him for fear of being called a racist.
“I felt unsure about what to do,” said Kyle Lawler, who was aged 18 at the time of the attack.
“I did not want people to think I am stereotyping him because of his race.”
Lawler said he had tried to radio the control room, but that he gave up as he could not get through due to radio traffic.
A member of the public had reported Abedi, who was dressed in black and carrying a large rucksack, to security 15 minutes before he detonated the bomb, packed with 3,000 nuts and bolts.
Abedi’s brother was last year jailed for life for playing an “integral part” in the attack, that also injured hundreds.
The Daesh group-inspired suicide bombing targeted crowds of mostly young people.
The youngest victim was aged just eight. Others included parents who had come to pick up their children.

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Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

Updated 17 June 2021

Sweden govt set to lose confidence vote: parties

  • Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles
  • To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s minority government could be toppled next week after a group of four parties in parliament announced Thursday they would back a no confidence vote, potentially triggering a snap election.

The far-right Sweden Democrats party announced it was calling for a motion of no confidence for Monday after the Left Party earlier warned it would seek a similar move over a dispute on rent controls for newly constructed apartments.

“There is now a majority in parliament that wants to dismiss the prime minister,” Henrik Vinge, parliament group leader for the Sweden Democrats, told a press conference.

Vinge said they hoped the government would fall a year ahead of the next general election.

Both the conservative Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats followed suit, securing a parliamentary majority for the no confidence motion against the government of Social Democrat Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

“We were against the Lofven government when they took power. We were against the Lofven government then, we are against the Lofven government now,” Ebba Busch, party leader of the Christian Democrats, told a press conference.

Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson echoed this sentiment in a post to social media.

“Our opinion is very clear, this government should never have taken office,” Kristersson wrote in a post to Facebook.

Speaker of the house, Andreas Norlen, confirmed in a statement the vote would be held on Monday.

Sweden’s minority government, took power in 2019 after months of political struggles to secure support for a government following the 2018 election.

To secure power it inked a deal with two center-left parties, and was propped up by the Left Party.

The deal included liberal market reforms, including a government inquiry into allowing landlords to freely set rents for new apartments.

Several of these reforms have irked the Left Party, and after multiple calls on the government to abandon the “market rents,” party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said earlier on Thursday that they were looking for support among other parties for a vote of no confidence.

“Someone has to stand up for Sweden’s tenants,” Dadgostar told a press conference adding that it wasn’t an “easy announcement.”

Speaking in parliament, Lofven responded by saying it was “not responsible” to call for the vote.

Lofven has announced a press conference of his own at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT).


France weighs mandatory vaccination for reticent health workers

Updated 17 June 2021

France weighs mandatory vaccination for reticent health workers

  • Vaccination rate among health workers in care homes is lagging behind that of the general adult population
  • New daily virus infections in France are projected to fall to 2,000 within a week

PARIS: COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccinations could become compulsory for health workers if they do not drop their resistance to getting the jab, France’s health minister warned Thursday.

The threat came on the first day that people in France were authorized to be outdoors without wearing face masks, as vaccinations pick up and new COVID-19 cases drop.

The vaccination rate among health workers in care homes, however, is lagging behind that of the general adult population, 60 percent of which have now received at least one COVID-19 jab, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

He made a “solemn appeal” to health workers, especially in care homes, to “take the plunge.”

“If by the end of the summer there is no improvement we will have to consider making vaccinations for those specific groups obligatory,” Veran told BFM television.

“It is necessary and ethical to get vaccinated when you are in contact with vulnerable populations,” he added.

The coronavirus affected elderly people in care homes particularly severely, especially during the first and second virus waves last year before vaccinations became widespread and social distancing the norm.

Veran would not be drawn on a possible similar move for hospital staff, saying that “we’ll wait and see.”

New daily virus infections in France, at just over 3,000 on Wednesday, are projected to fall to 2,000 within a week and to 1,000 by the end of the month, Veran said.

A daily 11:00 p.m. curfew will be lifted on Sunday, a week ahead of schedule.

Although people can now take off masks when outdoors, there are exceptions including when on busy shopping streets or at crowded events. Masks must still be worn indoors and on public transport.