Europeans join global wave of anti-racism protests

AFP , Sunday 7 Jun 2020

Kyle Umemba leads demonstrators protesting against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., June 7, 2020. REUTERS

Calling for racial justice, protesters rallied across Europe Sunday, joining a wave of demonstrations sparked by the death of African American George Floyd at the hands of US police.

A video of the incident with Floyd pleading for his life in Minneapolis as a white police officer knelt on his neck has sparked angry protests worldwide, even as countries continue to discourage large gatherings to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Several thousand people massed outside the US embassy in Madrid, shouting "I cannot breathe", Floyd's last words, and demanding justice.

"Racism knows no borders," said Leinisa Seemdo, a 26-year-old Spanish translator from Cape Verde. "In all the countries where I have lived, I have experienced discrimination because of the colour of my skin."

Rome's Piazza del Popolo ("People's Plaza") fell silent for eight minutes -- roughly the time Floyd was pinned down by the policeman -- with thousands of people taking a knee in memory of Floyd, their fists in the air.

"We can't breathe," shouted the crowd, after the collective silence.

"It's really hard to live here," said Senegalese migrant Morikeba Samate, 32, one of the thousands to have arrived in Italy after risking the perilous crossing across the Mediterranean.

Opposition to that wave of migration buoyed the far-right in Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

Floyd's death last month has unleashed the most serious and widespread civil unrest in the United States since Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.

The police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder while three fellow officers face lesser charges.

- 'No Justice, No Peace' -

More than 1,000 people on Sunday also gathered at a Black Lives Matter protest near the US embassy in Budapest.

"We have come together to stand up against racism," Hungarian reggae singer G Ras told cheering protesters. "If we want to live in a better world, we need to radically change the way we live."

Almost 4,000 attended two similar events in the Netherlands.

Another rally took place in London on Sunday despite a coronavirus ban against large gatherings, following scuffles Saturday during an otherwise peaceful protest.

In Bristol, a city linked to the slave trade, the statue of trader Edward Colston was torn down Sunday and thrown into the harbour.

In Lausanne, Switzerland, a black-clad demonstrator's placard read "my colour is not a threat", while almost 10,000 people marched in Brussels, police said.

"The murder of George Floyd had clearly woken up a lot of people," commented Ange Kaze of the Belgian Network for Black Lives.

A few skirmishes broke out at the end of the Brussels rally, but a demonstration by 15,000 in Copenhagen ended peacefully.

Fighting was also reported however at the end of a protest in Goteborg, Sweden, were almost 2,000 people turned out for a march authorised for just 50 owing to coronavirus restrictions.

As countries begin to emerge from lockdowns, governments are struggling to balance people's need to express anger against the risk of protests spreading a disease that has killed nearly 400,000 worldwide.

In France, more than 23,000 people demonstrated on Saturday, and football players from a half dozen German teams knelt over the weekend in Floyd's memory.

His death occurred during a pandemic that has disproportionately affected black people and ethnic minorities in mega cities such as London, New York and Rio de Janeiro.

The historic economic recession triggered by virus lockdowns has hammered the poor and marginalised even more.

A combination of economic woes, social tensions and anger at US President Donald Trump's response has refocused attention on racial divides like few other events since the 1960s.

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