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Spanish minister stands up for Columbus statues amid global protests

FILE PHOTO: A pedestal where a statue of Christopher Columbus was toppled is seen after widespread civil unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. June 10, 2020. Picture taken June 10, 2020 REUTERS/Julia Rendleman

MADRID (Reuters) - The education minister in Spain’s leftist coalition government defended the country’s numerous statues of 15th century navigator Christopher Columbus against calls by anti-racism activists to tear them down amid a wave of global protests.

The first European to reach the Americas, Columbus is often seen by rights activists as a symbol of racial hatred as his discovery opened the gates to invasions from Europe resulting in millions of deaths all over the Americas.

“Cities have history and moments which must be respected and learned from,” minister Isabel Celaa told reporters when asked about demands by protesters, including some left-wing politicians, in Spain to tear down the statues.

The Italian-born explorer, who made his travels on behalf of the Spanish crown, is a national hero in Spain, where dozens of cities have erected statues to honour him.

Following the death last month of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, anti-racism protesters across the United States and around the world have targeted statues of various historical figures, including Columbus.

Statues of the explorer were taken down or vandalised in several cities in the United States, including St Louis, Boston, Richmond and Detroit.

Reporting by Inti Landauro, editing by Andrei Khalip and Giles Elgood