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Statue of U.K. slave trader fished from harbor amid backlash over another of Scouts founder

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An image posted to Twitter by Bristol City Council shows workers pulling a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston from the city's harbor, into which it was pushed days earlier by anti-racism protesters, June 11, 2020. Bristol City Council/Twitter

London — A statue of a 17th-century slave trader that was toppled by anti-racism protesters in Bristol, England, has been fished out of the harbor by city authorities. Bristol City Council said the bronze statue of Edward Colston was recovered early Thursday morning to avoid drawing a crowd.

The council said the statue was taken to a "secure location" and would end up in a museum, as it emerged a statue of the founder of the global Scouts organization appeared to be dodging a similar fate, at least for now.

Colston built a fortune transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic and left most of his money to charity. His name adorns streets and buildings in Bristol, which was once the U.K.'s biggest port for slave ships.

After years of debate about what should happen to his statue, Black Lives Matter protesters hauled it down on Sunday and dumped it into the harbor.

"We've had a diver down there who attached the ropes to crane it out of the water and take it away," Ray Barnett, the city council's head of collections and archives, told BBC news. "The ropes that were tied around him, the spray paint added to him, is still there so we'll keep him like that."

Barnett said mud from the riverbed would be removed to ensure "we preserve him as he was tipped into the dock, while the decision is made how to move on for there."

Bristol's Mayor Marvin Rees said previously that he "felt no sense of loss" when the Colston statue was toppled into the water as police stood by and watched, fearing any intervention could lead to a violent confrontation.  

Statue of Scouts founder to stay

The act reinvigorated calls for the removal of other statues from Britain's imperial past.

Officials in Bournemouth, southern England, said Thursday that they planned to remove a statue of Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell because it might become a target, but later in the day that decision was put on hold amid public anger. 

Like many Englishmen of his time, Baden-Powell held racist views and he also expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.  

As residents gathered around the statue, Deputy Council Leader Mark Howell told local news outlet The Bournemouth Echo that a work crew scheduled to remove the statue pending further consideration had been called off, as they weren't going to work amid a "circus."

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Deputy leader of Bournemouth Council, Mark Howell (L), talks to people gathered around a statue of Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, on the promenade in Bournemouth, England, June 11, 2020, after the council said it would remove the statue. GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty

Howell told the newspaper the statue was an "important part" of the city of Poole's waterside neighborhood, and "it is possible we might not take it away at all." 

Earlier Thursday City Council leader Vikki Slade had said: "We are removing the statue so that we can properly involve all relevant communities and groups in discussions about its future."  

In a statement released later Thursday, Howell said the statue would not be removed immediately because, "the foundations are deeper than originally envisaged and we need further discussions with contractors on the best way to remove it safely." He acknowledged, also, the significant anger from local residents over the initial decision to remove the art installation for its own protection, which had been based on a police warning.

"Although we cannot say when any temporary removal may take place, we will be providing 24-hour security until it is either removed or the threat diminishes," Howell said. "Should the statue be removed temporarily, barring unforeseen circumstances we will return it to the Quay as soon as the threat level subsides."

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