King of the Netherlands apologizes for country’s role in slavery on 150th anniversary of abolition

Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized for the royal house's role in slavery and asked forgiveness in a speech greeted by cheers and whoops at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the country abolishing slavery in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Saturday, July 1, 2023. (AP)
Dutch King Willem-Alexander apologized for the royal house's role in slavery and asked forgiveness in a speech greeted by cheers and whoops at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the country abolishing slavery in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Saturday, July 1, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 02 July 2023
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King of the Netherlands apologizes for country’s role in slavery on 150th anniversary of abolition

King of the Netherlands apologizes for country’s role in slavery on 150th anniversary of abolition
  • Research published last month showed that the king’s ancestors earned the modern-day equivalent of 545 million euros ($595 million) from slavery, including profits from shares that were effectively given to them as gifts

AMSTERDAM: King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands apologized Saturday for his country’s role in slavery and asked for forgiveness during a historic speech greeted by cheers and whoops at an event to commemorate the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Dutch colonies.
The king’s speech followed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s apology late last year for the country’s role in the slave trade and slavery. The public expressions of remorse are part of a wider reckoning with colonial histories in the West that the Black Lives Matter movement spurred in recent years.
In his emotional address, Willem-Alexander referred back to the prime minister’s apology as he told a crowd of invited guests and onlookers: “Today, I stand before you. Today, as your king and as a member of the government, I make this apology myself. And I feel the weight of the words in my heart and my soul.”
The king said he has commissioned a study into the exact role of the royal House of Orange-Nassau in slavery in the Netherlands.
“But today, on this day of remembrance, I ask forgiveness for the clear failure to act in the face of this crime against humanity,” he added.
Willem-Alexander’s voice appeared to break with emotion as he completed his speech before laying a wreath at the country’s national slavery monument in an Amsterdam park.
Some people want action to back up the words.
“Honestly, I feel good, but I am still looking forward to something more than just apologies. Reparations, for example,” Doelja Refos, 28, said.
“I don’t feel like we’re done. We’re definitely not there yet,” Refos added.
Former lawmaker John Leerdam told Dutch broadcaster NOS that he felt tears running down his cheeks as the king apologized. “It’s a historic moment and we have to realize that,” he said.
Slavery was abolished in Suriname and the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean on July 1, 1863, but most of the enslaved laborers were forced to continue working on plantations for another decade. Saturday’s commemoration and speech started a year of events to mark the 150th anniversary.
Research published last month showed that the king’s ancestors earned the modern-day equivalent of 545 million euros ($595 million) from slavery, including profits from shares that were effectively given to them as gifts.
When Rutte apologized in December, he stopped short of offering compensation to descendants of enslaved people.
Instead, the government is establishing a 200 million-euro ($217 million) fund for initiatives that tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to improve education about the topic.
That isn’t enough for some in the Netherlands. Two groups, Black Manifesto and The Black Archives, organized a protest march before the king’s speech Saturday under the banner “No healing without reparations.”
“A lot of people including myself, my group, The Black Archives, and the Black Manifesto say that (an) apology is not enough. An apology should be tied to a form of repair and reparatory justice or reparations,” Black Archives director Mitchell Esajas said.
Marchers wore colorful traditional clothing in a Surinamese celebration of the abolition of slavery. Enslaved people were banned from wearing shoes and colorful clothes, organizers said.
“Just as we remember our forefathers on this day, we also feel free, we can wear what we want, and we can show the rest of the world that we are free.” Regina Benescia-van Windt, 72, said.
The Netherlands’ often brutal colonial history has come under renewed and critical scrutiny in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
A groundbreaking 2021 exhibition at the national museum of art and history took an unflinching look at slavery in Dutch colonies. In the same year, a report described the Dutch involvement in slavery as a crime against humanity and linked it to what the report described as ongoing institutional racism in the Netherlands.
The Dutch first became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1500s and became a major trader in the mid-1600s. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest trans-Atlantic slave trader, according to Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert in Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University.
Authorities in the Netherlands aren’t alone in saying sorry for historic abuses.
In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. King Philippe of Belgium has expressed “deepest regrets” for abuses in Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the church’s role in slavery. Americans have had emotionally charged disputes over taking down statues of slaveholders in the South.
In April, King Charles III for the first time signaled support for research into the UK monarchy’s ties to slavery after a document showed an ancestor with shares in a slave-trading company, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said.
Charles and his eldest son, Prince William, have expressed their sorrow over slavery but haven’t acknowledged the crown’s connections to the trade.
During a ceremony that marked Barbados becoming a republic two years ago, Charles referred to “the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history.” English settlers used African slaves to turn the island into a wealthy sugar colony.
Willem-Alexander acknowledged that not everybody in the Netherlands supports apologies, but he called for unity.
“There’s no blueprint for the process of healing, reconciliation and recovery,” he said. “Together, we are in uncharted territory. So let’s support and guide each other.”
 

 


Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing

Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing
Updated 7 sec ago
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Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing

Dutch PM Rutte in strong position to become NATO chief after getting US, UK backing
BRUSSELS/LONDON: The United States and Britain backed outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday to succeed Jens Stoltenberg as the next secretary general of NATO, putting him in a strong position to clinch the post.
Stoltenberg’s successor when he steps down in October will take office at a crucial juncture, tasked with sustaining NATO members’ support for Ukraine’s costly defense against Russia’s invasion while guarding against any escalation that would draw the alliance directly into a war with Russia.
“President Biden strongly endorses PM Rutte’s candidacy to be the next Secretary General of NATO,” a US official said.
“PM Rutte has a deep understanding of the importance of the Alliance, is a natural leader and communicator, and his leadership would serve the Alliance well at this critical time.”
Depending on the outcome of November’s US presidential election, the next NATO boss may have to deal with a second term for Donald Trump, who recently once again called into question his commitment to defending NATO allies.
NATO leaders are appointed by consensus requiring the support — or at the least no opposition — from all its 31 members. Two diplomats said Rutte has the backing of about 20 NATO members so far.
Sweden is currently set to become the Western alliance’s 32nd member — a move precipitated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Rutte, who was already considered the favorite to fill the role, signaled his interest in the top job at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last year.
The British Foreign Office said Rutte was a well-respected figure across NATO with serious defense and security credentials, and someone who would ensure it remained strong and prepared for any need to defend itself.
The Netherlands’ longest-serving leader, Rutte unexpectedly announced his departure from Dutch politics in July, but remains in post as a caretaker leader while coalition negotiations continue following a Nov. 22 election.
Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, has served as NATO chief since 2014. His term was extended in July last year for a fourth time as the alliance opted to stick with an experienced leader rather than try to agree on a successor with Russia’s war in Ukraine raging on NATO’s doorstep.
Diplomats say Rutte is currently the only official candidate for the post. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins have also signaled interest but not been presented formally as candidates, diplomats say.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, whom some had mentioned as a possible successor, ruled it out on Thursday, saying she would turn down the job if it were offered to her.

Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river

Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river
Updated 6 min 35 sec ago
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Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river

Ukraine claims strike on Russian army range near Dnipro river
  • Military spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk said on television the attack took place Wednesday, striking a range where Russian storm troops were training
  • “The work was carried out quite effectively: at least 60 invaders will definitely not return to combat positions”

KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday that its forces had struck a Russian training ground on the Russia-occupied bank of the Dnipro River in the southern Kherson region, killing or wounding dozens of troops.
Military spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk said on television the attack took place Wednesday, striking a range where Russian storm troops were training.
“The work was carried out quite effectively: at least 60 invaders will definitely not return to combat positions,” said Gumeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Operational Command South.
She later told AFP that three strikes hit a training ground near the village of Podo-Kalynivka, with around 60 Russian troops “killed or seriously wounded.”
The Telegram channel of southern defense forces posted aerial video footage showing explosions and soldiers lying on the ground.
The attack came after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that Moscow forces had reclaimed a Ukrainian bridgehead around the village of Krynky on the Moscow-occupied bank of the Dnipro River.
The Ukrainian army denied the claim.
Gumeniuk said the training ground hit by the strike Wednesday was being used by soldiers deployed to attack the bridgehead.
One of the largest Russian Telegram blogs writing about the war, Rybar, said Thursday that there were three strikes on a training ground in a national park area of sand dunes called Oleshkivski Pisky, around 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Krynky.
Rybar said fighting was also continuing in Krynky, where small numbers of Ukrainian troops remain, with Ukraine sending artillery and drones from the opposite bank of the river under its control.
Ukraine reportedly carried out a similar strike on a training ground near the Russian-controlled eastern town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region on Tuesday, with numerous casualties.
The BBC Russian Service reported that troops from Russia’s 36th motorized rifle brigade based in Siberia were lined up on the training ground waiting for a commander to arrive, and at least 60 may have been killed.
Rybar said the attack was carried out using US-made HIMARS rocket systems.
The governor of the region where the brigade was from called the information “spurious” but promised help to the soldiers’ families.
Ukrainian authorities have not commented.
Russian war bloggers criticized the military leadership, saying such gatherings of large numbers of troops on open ground made easy targets.


India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
Updated 20 min 59 sec ago
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India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign

India’s Modi says committed to farmers’ welfare, protesting leaders to expand campaign
  • Farmers mostly from northern India have been attempting to march to New Delhi
  • Protesting farmers are demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops

SHAMBHU, India: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday his government is committed to the welfare of farmers and is on a mission to make them entrepreneurs and exporters, amid a protest by thousands of farmers seeking higher prices for their produce.

Modi’s comments on farmers were his first since the protests began last week and come months before general elections in which he is seeking a rare third term.

Farmers, mostly from the northern state of Punjab, have been attempting to march to the capital for more than a week as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ (Let’s Go to Delhi) campaign demanding legally binding higher prices for their crops, among other things.

They have been stopped 200 km (125 miles) away by police who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon, with talks between farmers’ leaders and federal ministers failing to produce a breakthrough.

The farmer leaders said on Wednesday they were pausing their march for two days following the death of a young protester, with authorities telling local media that the man had suffered a head injury and the cause was yet to be determined.

After a meeting on Thursday, farmers’ leaders said they had decided to launch other “mega programs” across the country starting on Friday.

Friday would be observed as a Black Day and effigies of federal Interior Minister Amit Shah and some state leaders would be burnt across the country, farmers’ leader Avik Saha told reporters.

A tractor rally would be held on highways on Feb. 26 and a farm workers’ public meeting would be held in Delhi on March 14, he added.

POLITICAL RISK

“Our government is committed to fulfill every resolve related to the welfare of our farmer brothers and sisters across the country,” Modi posted on X earlier on Thursday, and referred to a cabinet decision on Wednesday to raise the floor price that mills must pay for sugar cane by 8 percent.

The move does not benefit the protesting farmers who mostly grow rice and wheat but will help cane farmers in two other states that send the most lawmakers to parliament.

“How to better the life of the small farmer is our focus,” Modi later told a public meeting in his home state of Gujarat, without referring to the protests on the border of Punjab and Haryana states.

“We have given modern seeds to farmers...we are giving solar pumps to farmers...our effort is to get small farmers in villages to meet modern technology,” Modi said. 

“Besides making them producers, this is a mission to make small farmers entrepreneurs and exporters.”

Although the protesting farmers mostly belong to Punjab state, which has a limited footprint in parliament, analysts say Modi’s party cannot risk the campaign spreading to other states and angering more farmers, who are an influential bloc of voters, so close to the polls.

Similar protests two years ago, when farmers camped for months at the border of New Delhi, forced Modi to repeal a set of farm reform laws in what was seen as the biggest political defeat of the strongman leader.

At the main protest site of Shambhu, on the border between Haryana and Punjab states, dozens of farmers milled on and around the highway, sipping tea, cooking and collecting tear gas shells fired on Wednesday, as police kept watch.

Earlier on Thursday, social media platform X said it took down certain accounts and posts following an order by the Indian government, which local media reports say are linked to the farmers protests.
 


Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading

Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading
Updated 25 min 33 sec ago
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Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading

Indian village’s ‘book nests’ foster culture of reading
  • Village of 5,000 has 14 spots where residents exchange and borrow books
  • Perukulam was named the ‘first book village’ of Kerala in 2021

NEW DELHI: Dotted with outdoor bookcases, Perukulam village in India’s southwest is building its community around reading — an initiative its residents hope will help them learn and grow.

Everything started in 2017, when the village’s public library, Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala, placed a shelf with books on one of the streets to see how people would respond.

“The inspiration came from the US-based Little Free Library, a book-sharing movement that places bookcases in public places and the Bappuji Smaraka Vayanasala library is a member of the Little Free Library,” V. Vijesh, a schoolteacher and the library’s secretary, told Arab News.

The idea was to test the village’s reading habits, which proved to be better than expected and soon more bookshelves, or “book nests,” as residents refer to them, popped up in Perukulam.

The village in Kollam district of Kerala, India’s only state with a literacy rate nearing 100 percent, has only 5,000 inhabitants and over a dozen mini-libraries.

“Today there are 14 ‘book nests’ in the village and the villagers are the stakeholders because it’s them who contribute to running the library and the library in turn maintains the nest,” Vijesh said.

The books are in the local Malayalam language, Hindi and English. Besides fiction, the volumes also cover politics and science.

The bookcases are usually located in public spaces where people can sit, meet, and talk. They can either read the books outdoors or take them home.

“It works on the concept of bring one, take one. There is a notebook, and the villagers have to make an entry while returning or borrowing a book,” Vijesh said.

The initiative has won Perukulam the attention of authorities. Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared it the state’s “first book village” in 2021.

It was also noticed in the literary world, with celebrated Malayalam writer Maniyambath Mukundan calling it a “unique experiment” that needed to be promoted and emulated.

“The Perumkulam village is doing remarkable work and you have committed youngsters in the village who are keen to encourage others to read,” Mukundan told Arab News.

Collections in Perumkulam’s book nests are chosen to appeal not only to the young but also older readers.

“We take special care in maintaining and running all the bookshelves,” said Akhila Mohanan, a member of the village council.

“It’s not only youngsters but elderly people also can be seen sitting on the bench reading either a newspaper or a book. Through books you evolve, and we feel as a village we are evolving each passing day.”

For Pwijitha Kalyani, a 20-year-old youth volunteer, fostering the culture of reading in her village makes her and her peers proud.

“This is the first of its kind village where books are celebrated, and everyone fancies himself or herself as a reader. This culture of book reading is important because youngsters these days try to find knowledge only through the internet and Google search,” she said.

“If you read a book, you remember its content but if you read the stuff online, you tend to forget it. So, holding a book is a magical experience.”


Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
Updated 22 February 2024
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Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage

Syrian migrants stripped, forced back from Serbian border in new footage
  • NGO condemns ‘abusive and degrading’ treatment of 50 migrants
  • Evidence of problem across continent, says Council of Europe official

LONDON: Footage of Syrian migrants in Serbia being stripped and forced back into North Macedonia has emerged, in what human rights groups warn is evidence of growing violence targeting migrants on the edges of Europe.

Legis, an NGO in North Macedonia, sent two video clips to The Guardian newspaper showing a line of semi-naked men on a road near Lojane, close to the border with Serbia.

The videos are dated Feb. 10 and show the second instance of “abusive and degrading” migrant pushbacks that day, Legis said.

In total, more than 50 migrants who crossed the border were stripped and pushed back by Serbian authorities, the NGO added.

Legis President Jasmin Redjepi said the pushback followed an EU-Serbian cooperation summit that aimed to bolster the Serbian border against people-smuggling operations.

 

 

He added: “These incidents occur when the EU prepares restrictions for migrants on the route, and in this case just days after an EU-Serbia border cooperation summit. We then see the direct impact and consequences.”

Though the stripping of migrants has taken place across Europe, the Legis footage is the first instance of the practice taking place on the Serbia-North Macedonia border.

A report by a Belgian NGO estimated that in 2023, almost 350,000 forced pushbacks took place on Europe’s external borders.

Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said: “Recent reports of alleged pushbacks by Serbian police officers at the border with North Macedonia, characterized by ill- and degrading treatment and robbery of migrants, possibly including those attempting to seek asylum, require prompt and effective investigation by state authorities.”

She added that the pushbacks on the North Macedonia border are indicative of an “urgent pan-European problem,” with the practice becoming a widespread phenomenon across the continent.

“These incidents are not only disturbing, but also indicative of a wider, worrying trend among Council of Europe member states.

“These actions appear to violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits refoulement and collective expulsions, as well as other international standards which require ensuring genuine and effective access to asylum for those who seek it,” Mijatovic said.

“What I have observed and warned about is that migrants have been subjected to treatment that might constitute degrading treatment or torture in several European countries for years, in clear violation of states’ human rights obligations.”