PARIS (AP) – French anti-racism activists hung a black cloth over the statue of a colonial commander in central Paris on Thursday, triggering three arrests and brief tensions with the police.
The target of the protest was a monument to General Joseph Gallieni, who led brutal campaigns to quell the rebellion in French colonies, but is better known and celebrated as a World War I hero.
Three activists who climbed the statue to cover it were handcuffed and detained by the police, who threatened to shoot tear gas at the other activists and journalists who filmed the scene from below. The detained activists were quickly released and the crowd dispersed peacefully.
The memorial contains a statue of Gallieni standing on a pedestal supported by carvings of a half-naked African woman, an Asian figure and a woman from Madagascar. Gallieni was notably Governor of Madagascar, where he abolished the island’s 350-year-old monarchy.
He is celebrated throughout France in images and street names. Signs to a Paris metro station in his name were briefly covered on Wednesday with a replacement name by anti-colonial activists.
Françoise Vergès, a prominent political thinker on issues of colonization, race and gender, demanded that the statue be moved to a museum.
“Gallieni has been slaughtered in Madagascar, Mali, Senegal and Vietnam, he is not a national hero,” she said. “If he moved to a museum, we should hear what he did, testimonials from Malagasy, Senegalese and Malian people telling their story.”
President Emmanuel Macron has said that France will not display statues of figures related to colonialism or the slave trade, despite demands from activist groups amid similar movements in the United States and elsewhere, following protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at 25 May.
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