Under the brutal colonial rule of Belgium's King Leopold II, the Democratic Republic of Congo saw millions of its citizens perish at the turn of the 20th century. Now King Philippe, the current royal ruler of Belgium and a direct descendant of Leopold, has offered what's just short of an apology to the DRC's leader for what his ancestor did more than 100 years ago. CNN reports that on the 60th anniversary of the DRC's independence from Belgium, the monarch sent his "deepest regrets" via a letter to President Felix Tshisekedi for the "suffering and humiliation" brought by Leopold (though Philippe didn't specifically mention his name) during his reign from 1885 to 1908 over what was then called the Congo Free State. "Our history is made of common achievements but has also experienced painful episodes," Philippe wrote.
"During [that] period ... acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory," he added. Philippe is the first Belgium monarch to utter such words of contriteness over what happened to the Congolese people under Leopold's rule, when up to 10 million people may have died from sickness, hard labor, and other atrocities. Per the Guardian, Philippe's remarks stand in contrast to those of his younger brother, Prince Laurent, who earlier this month defended Leopold and minimized his actions regarding the Congolese. The BBC notes that a renewed interest in Belgium's colonization in Africa has been linked to the Black Lives Matter protests going on in the US and around the world. Demonstrations have taken place across Belgium, and statues of Leopold have been damaged and yanked down. (Read more Belgium stories.)