UK Museum Agrees to Return Looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

A London museum agreed Sunday to return a collection of Benin Bronzes looted in the late 19th century from what is now Nigeria as cultural institutions throughout Britain come under pressure to repatriate artifacts acquired during the colonial era. 

The Horniman Museum and Gardens in southeast London said that it would transfer a collection of 72 items to the Nigerian government. The decision comes after Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments formally asked for the artifacts to be returned earlier this year and following a consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the U.K., the museum said. 

“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” Eve Salomon, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artifacts.” 

The Horniman’s collection is a small part of the 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa. The British Museum alone holds more than 900 objects from Benin, and National Museums Scotland has another 74. Others were distributed to museums around the world. 

The artifacts include plaques, animal and human figures, and items of royal regalia made from brass and bronze by artists working for the royal court of Benin. The general term Benin Bronzes is sometimes applied to items made from ivory, coral, wood and other materials as well as the metal sculptures. 

Increasing demand for returns

Countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains amid a global reassessment of colonialism and the exploitation of local populations. 

Nigeria and Germany recently signed a deal for the return of hundreds of Benin Bronzes. That followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to sign over 26 pieces known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless artworks of the 19th century Dahomey kingdom in present-day Benin, a small country that sits just west of Nigeria. 

But British institutions have been slower to respond. 

Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture formally asked the British Museum to return its Benin Bronzes in October of last year. 

The museum said Sunday that it is working with a number of partners in Nigeria and it is committed to a “thorough and open investigation” of the history of the Benin artifacts and the looting of Benin City. 

“The museum is committed to active engagement with Nigerian institutions concerning the Benin Bronzes, including pursuing and supporting new initiatives developed in collaboration with Nigerian partners and colleagues,” the British Museum says on its website. 

BLM inspires museum to ‘reset’

The Horniman Museum also traces its roots to the Age of Empire. 

The museum opened in 1890, when tea merchant Frederick Horniman opened his collection of artifacts from around the world for public viewing. 

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum embarked on a “reset agenda,” that sought to “address long-standing issues of racism and discrimination within our history and collections, and a determination to set ourselves on a more sustainable course for the future.” 

The museum’s website acknowledges that Frederick Horniman’s involvement in the Chinese tea trade meant he benefitted from low prices due to Britain’s sale of opium in China and the use of poorly compensated and sometimes forced labor. 

The Horniman also recognizes that it holds items “obtained through colonial violence.” 

These include the Horniman’s collection of Benin Bronzes, comprising 12 brass plaques, as well as a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key to the king’s palace. The bronzes are currently displayed along with information acknowledging their forced removal from Benin City and their contested status. 

“We recognize that we are at the beginning of a journey to be more inclusive in our stories and our practices, and there is much more we need to do,” the museum says on its website. “This includes reviewing the future of collections that were taken by force or in unequal transactions.” 

Ukraine Grain Headed for Lebanon Under Wartime Deal Delayed

The scheduled arrival Sunday of the first grain ship to leave Ukraine and cross the Black Sea under a wartime deal has been delayed, a Lebanese Cabinet minister and the Ukrainian embassy said.

The cause of the delay was not immediately clear and Marine Traffic, which monitors vessel traffic and the locations of ships at sea, showed the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni at anchor in the Mediterranean Sea near Turkey.

Lebanon’s transportation minister, Ali Hamie, tweeted the ship “that was supposed, according to what was rumored, to reach Tripoli port in Lebanon” changed its status. Hamie refused to comment further when contacted by The Associated Press.

The ship left Odesa last Monday carrying Ukrainian corn and later passed inspection in Turkey. It was supposed to arrive in the northern port of Tripoli at about 10 a.m. Sunday. According to Marine Traffic, the ship Saturday changed its status to “order” meaning the ship was waiting for someone to buy the corn.

The Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said the arrival of the ship has been postponed adding that an “update for the ceremony will be sent later when we get information about [the] exact day and time of the arrival of the ship.”

The shipment that was supposed to arrive in Lebanon comes at a time when the tiny Mediterranean nation is suffering from a food security crisis, with soaring food inflation, wheat shortages and bread lines. The ship is carrying some 26,000 tons of corn for chicken feed.

The passage of the vessel was the first under a breakthrough deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine. The four sides signed deals last month to create safe Black Sea shipping corridors to export Ukraine’s desperately needed agricultural products as Russia’s war upon its neighbor grinds on.

Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in its modern history that began in late 2019 has left three-quarters of its population living in poverty while the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value.

The economic meltdown rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement was made worse by a massive blast in August 2020 that destroyed Beirut’s port and the country’s main grain silos inside the sprawling facility. Large parts of the silos collapsed in recent days after fire caused by remnants of grain that started fermenting and ignited in the summer heat last month.

Lebanese officials said last week that the Razoni was supposed to leave Ukraine and head to Lebanon on Feb. 24 but the departure was delayed by the war that broke out days later.

On Friday, three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports and traveled through mined waters toward inspection of their delayed cargo, a sign that the international deal to export grain held up since Russia invaded Ukraine was slowly progressing.

Four more ships carrying agricultural cargo held up by the war in Ukraine received authorization Sunday to leave the country’s Black Sea ports.

Temperatures Rise as France Tackles Worst Drought on Record

France on Sunday braced for a fourth heatwave this summer as its worst drought on record left parched villages without safe drinking water and farmers warned of a looming milk shortage in the winter.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s office has set up a crisis team to tackle a drought that has forced scores of villages to rely on water deliveries by truck, prompted state-run utility EDF to curb nuclear power output and stressed crops.

Temperatures were expected to hit 37 Celsius in the southwest Sunday before the baking hot air spreads north early in the week.

“This new heatwave is likely to set in,” La Chaine Meteo, similar to the U.S. cable service The Weather Channel, said.

National weather agency Meteo France said it was the worst drought since records began in 1958 and that the drought was expected to worsen until at least the middle of the month. On average, less than 1cm of rain fell across France in July.

The corn harvest is expected to be 18.5% lower this year compared with 2021, the agriculture ministry has said, just as Europeans contend with higher food prices as a result of lower-than-normal grain exports from Russia and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a shortage of fodder because of the drought meant there could be a shortage of milk in the months ahead, the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions said.

Nuclear operator EDF last week reduced its power output at a plant in southwestern France due to high river temperatures on the Garonne, and it has issued rolling warnings for reactors along the Rhone river.

The hot weather has compounded the utility’s problems, with corrosion problems and extended maintenance at half of its 56 reactors reducing capacity as Europe faces an energy crunch.

Water restrictions are in place across almost all of mainland France to conserve water, including hosepipe and irrigation bans.

WW2 Bomb Revealed in Drought-Hit Waters of Italy’s Po River

Heatwaves sweeping Europe this summer have brought not just record high temperatures and scorched fields: the drought-stricken waters of Italy’s River Po are running so low they revealed a previously submerged World War Two bomb.

Military experts defused and carried out a controlled explosion on Sunday of the 450-kg (1,000-pound) bomb, which was discovered on July 25 near the northern village of Borgo Virgilio, close to the city of Mantua.

“The bomb was found by fishermen on the bank of the River Po due to a decrease in water levels caused by drought,” Colonel Marco Nasi said.

It was no easy task to clear the bomb.

About 3,000 people living nearby were evacuated for the disposal operation, the army said. The area’s airspace was shut down, and navigation along that stretch of the waterway as well as traffic on a railway line and state road close by were halted.

“At first, some of the inhabitants said they would not move, but in the last few days, we think we have persuaded everyone,” said Borgo Virgilio’s mayor, Francesco Aporti, adding that if people had refused to go, operations would have been halted.

Bomb disposal engineers removed the fuse from the U.S.-manufactured device, which the army said contained 240 kg (530 pounds) of explosive.

Then the bomb squad, escorted by police, transferred the device to a quarry in Medole municipality about 45 km (30 miles) away, where it was destroyed.

Italy declared a state of emergency last month for areas surrounding the Po, which is the country’s longest river. It accounts for roughly a third of Italy’s agricultural production and is suffering its worst drought for 70 years.

Ukrainian Risks Her Life To Rescue Wild Animals From War

Natalia Popova has found a new purpose in life: Rescuing wild animals and pets from the devastation wrought by the war in Ukraine.

“They are my life,” says the 50-year-old, stroking a light-furred lioness like a kitten. From inside an enclosure, the animal rejoices at the attention, lying on her back and stretching her paws up toward her caretaker.

Popova, in cooperation with the animal protection group UA Animals, has already saved more than 300 animals from the war; 200 of them went abroad and 100 found new homes in western Ukraine, which is considered safer. Many of them were wild animals who were kept as pets at private homes before their owners fled Russian shelling and missiles.

Popova’s shelter in the Kyiv region village of Chubynske now houses 133 animals. It’s a broad menagerie, including 13 lions, a leopard, a tiger, three deer, wolves, foxes, raccoons and roe deer, as well as domesticated animals like horses, donkeys, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats and birds.

The animals awaiting evacuation to Poland were rescued from hot spots such as eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, which see daily bombardments and active fighting. The Ukrainian soldiers who let Popova know when animals near the front lines need help joke that she has many lives, like a cat.

“No one wants to go there. Everyone is afraid. I am also scared, but I go anyway,” she said.

Often, she is trembling in the car on her way to rescue another wild animal.

“I feel very sorry for them. I can imagine the stress animals are under because of the war, and no one can help them,” Popova said.

In most cases, she knows nothing about the animals she rescues, neither their names and ages nor their owners.

“Animals don’t introduce themselves when they come to us,” she joked.

For the first months of the war, Popova drove to war hot spots alone, but a couple from UA Animals recently offered to transport and help her.

“Our record is an evacuation in 16 minutes, when we saved a lion between Kramatorsk and Sloviansk,” Popova said. An economist by education with no formal veterinary experience, she administered anesthesia on the lion because the animal had to be put to sleep before it could be transported.

Popova says she has always been very attached to animals. In kindergarten, she built houses for worms and talked to birds. In 1999, she opened the first private horse club in Ukraine. But it wasn’t until four years ago that she saved her first lion.

An organization against slaughterhouses approached her with a request for help saving a lion with a broken spine. She did not know how she could help because her expertise was in horses. But when she saw a photo of the big cat, Popova could not resist.

She built an enclosure and took in the lion the next morning, paying the owner. Later, Popova created a social media page titled “Help the Lioness,” and people began to write asking for help saving other wild animals.

Yana, the first lioness she rescued, has become a family member since she could not find a new home due to a disability. Popova took care of her until she died two weeks ago.

The shelter is just a temporary stop for the animals. Popova rehabilitates them and then looks for new homes for them. She feels a special connection with each big cat but says she does not mind letting them go.

“I love them, and I understand that I do not have the resources to provide them with the comfortable life they deserve,” says Popova.

At first, she bankrolled the shelter with her own funds from the horse business. But since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the horse business has not been profitable. With more than $14,000 a month needed to keep animals healthy and fed, she has turned to borrowing, and seen her debt grow to $200,000.

She gets some money from UA Animals and from donations but worries about how to keep everything together have kept her up at night.

“But I will still borrow money, go to hot spots and save animals. I can’t say no to them,” she said.

Popova sends all her animals to the Poznań Zoo in Poland, which helps her evacuate them and find them new homes. Some animals have already been transported to Spain, France and South Africa. Her next project is sending 12 lions to Poland this week.

With no end to the fighting in sight, Popova knows she will still be needed.

“My mission in this war is to save wild animals,” she says.

Tons of Grain Leaving Ukraine

Four grain ships sailed from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports Sunday.

The Joint Coordination Center, the body set up under the Black Sea Grain Initiative to monitor its implementation, authorized the departures through the maritime humanitarian corridor.

The ships moving out of Ukrainian ports are headed to China, Italy and two locations in Turkey.

A fifth ship has been authorized to sail to Ukraine to pick up cargo.

Ukraine is one of the world’s breadbaskets and the blockage of its ports has resulted in rising global food prices and the threat of famine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in his daily address Saturday denounced Amnesty International for its “eloquent silence” in failing to address the Russian shelling of Zaporizhzhia NPP, the Ukrainian power plant that is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. The silence, Zelenskyy said, “indicates the manipulative selectivity of this organization.”

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency addressed the nuclear power plant situation in a statement Saturday, saying, “Military action jeopardizing the safety and security of the Zaporizhzya nuclear power plant is completely unacceptable and must be avoided at all costs.”

Amnesty International released a report last week saying that “Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they repelled the Russian invasion that began in February.”

In response, Zelenskyy said then, “There cannot be, even hypothetically, any condition under which any Russian attack on Ukraine becomes justified. Aggression against our state is unprovoked, invasive and openly terroristic.”

Oksana Pokalchuk, the head of Amnesty International Ukraine, also took issue with the global organization’s report and has resigned from her post in protest.

Amnesty International Ukraine Report Sparks Furor, Resignation

The head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine chapter has resigned, saying the human rights organization shot down her opposition to publishing a report that said Ukrainian forces had exposed civilians to Russian attacks by basing themselves in populated areas.

In a statement posted Friday night on Facebook, Oksana Pokalchuk accused her former employer of disregarding Ukraine’s wartime realities and the concerns of local staff members who had pushed for the report to be reworked.

The report, released Thursday, drew angry denouncements from top Ukrainian officials and criticism from Western diplomats, who accused the authors of making vague claims that appeared to equate the Ukrainian military’s defensive actions to the tactics of the invading Russians.

“It is painful to admit, but I and the leadership of Amnesty International have split over values,” Pokalchuk wrote. “I believe that any work done for the good of society should take into account the local context and think through consequences.”

Russia has repeatedly justified attacks on civilian areas by alleging that Ukrainian fighters had set up firing positions at the targeted locations.

Pokalchuk said her office had asked the organization’s leadership to give the Ukrainian Defense Ministry adequate time to respond to the report’s findings and argued that its failure to do so would further Kremlin misinformation and propaganda efforts.

“I am convinced that our surveys should be done thoroughly, bearing in mind the people whose lives often depend directly on the words and actions of international organizations,” she said.

In a news release that accompanied the report’s publication, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said the organization had “documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law,” she said Thursday.

Russian state-sponsored media quoted the report to support Moscow’s claim that Russia has only launched strikes on military targets during the war. The spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry cited the Amnesty International assertions as proof that Ukraine was using civilians as human shields.

Multiple Western scholars of international and military law went on social media to reject the human shield claim. They said the report contained poor phrasing that muddied legal distinctions and ignored the combat conditions in Ukraine.

United Nations war crimes investigator Marc Garlasco, tweeting in a personal capacity Friday, accused Amnesty International of “getting the law wrong” and said Ukraine was taking steps to protect civilians, such as helping them relocate.

Ukrainian authorities at the national and regional level have repeatedly urged residents of front-line areas to evacuate, although tens of thousands of people who left their homes since Russia’s invasion have returned after running out of support or feeling unwelcome.

Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the country’s foreign and defense ministers, have been scathing in their condemnation of the report, which they said failed to provide context on Russia’s bombardments of populated areas and documented attacks on civilians.

Callamard posted a tweet Friday that defended the organization’s work and took aim at its critics. 

“Ukrainian and Russian social media mobs and trolls: they are all at it today attacking Amnesty investigations. This is called war propaganda, disinformation, misinformation. This won’t dent our impartiality and won’t change the facts,” she wrote.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba issued an angry response to Callamard in which he accused her organization of “fake neutrality” and playing into the Kremlin’s hands.

“Apparently, Amnesty’s Secretary General calls me a ‘mob’ and a ‘troll’, but this won’t stop me from saying that its report distorts reality, draws false moral equivalence between the aggressor and the victim, and boosts Russia’s disinformation effort. This is fake ‘neutrality’, not truthfulness,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

Beluga Whale Caught in France’s Seine Not Accepting Food

French environmentalists are working around the clock to try and feed a dangerously thin Beluga whale that has strayed into the Seine River. So far, they have been unsuccessful.

Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd France tweeted Saturday that “our teams took turns with the Beluga all night long. It always ignores the fish offered to him.”

The lost Beluga was first seen in France’s river, far from its Arctic habitat, earlier this week. Drone footage subsequently shot by French fire services showed the whale gently meandering in a stretch of the river’s light green waters between Paris and the Normandy city of Rouen, many dozens of kilometers (miles) inland from the sea.

Conservationists have tried since Friday to feed a catch of herring to the ethereal white mammal. Calling it “a race against the clock,” Sea Shepherd fears the whale is slowly starving in the waterway and could die.

Authorities in the l’Eure region said in a Friday night statement that the wild animal has a “fleeing behavior vis-a-vis the boats” and has not responded to attempts to guide it to safer waters.

The people trying to help the whale are being as unobtrusive as possible to “avoid stress that could aggravate his state of health,” according to the statement.

Huge Crowds Watch Amsterdam Pride’s Canal Parade Celebration

Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined Amsterdam’s historic canals Saturday to celebrate the Canal Parade, a Pride flotilla of 80 brightly decorated boats packed with people partying, singing and waving rainbow flags, balloons and umbrellas. 

The boats representing rights groups, bars, clothing brands and even the Dutch military made their way slowly through the waterways in a resumption of the hugely popular LGBTQ Pride event that had been canceled for two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are looking forward to a special edition where ‘being who you are and loving who you want’ is the norm and the struggle for equal rights is the message,” Amsterdam Pride director Lucien Spee de Castillo Ruiz said. 

Spectators were packed several people deep along the Dutch capital’s canals and bridges to watch the 25th version of the parade that was the highlight of the city’s nine-day Pride event. 

Earlier, Dutch police stopped a boat supporting farmers protesting government climate plans to cut nitrogen emissions from joining the parade. Only 80 boats were allowed to take part and they had to register ahead of time. 

The farmers’ boat was decorated with flags saying, “Proud of the Farmers” and “No farmer, no food.” On board was a person in a cow costume and others wearing pink clogs and pink cowboy hats. 

 

12 Poles Killed in Croatia Bus Crash

A bus with Polish license plates skidded off a highway in northern Croatia early Saturday, killing at least 12 people, according to authorities.  

Officials say at least 30 people were injured. 

The bus was filled with religious pilgrims traveling to a Catholic shrine in Medjugorje, a town in southern Bosnia. 

Reuters reports that all the victims are Polish citizens.