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Protestor interrupts slave abolition service metres from Queen
Protest mars apology service
AP PHOTO/STEPHEN HIRD
Protester Toyin Agbetu disrupts a service at London's Westminster Abbey to mark the bicentenary of the 1807 act to abolish the slave trade. Queen Elizabeth is at the top right. Email story
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Mar 27, 2007 12:32 PM
LONDON–Within spitting distance of the Queen and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a lone black protester today eluded tight security at Westminster Abbey to denounce the national commemorative service to mark the end of the Atlantic slave trade of Africans 200 years ago.
“This is a disgrace to our ancestors,” shouted the protestor, jabbing his finger at Queen Elizabeth and Blair. “Millions of our ancestors are in the Atlantic.”
The man identified as Toyin Agbetu ground the church service to a halt and stunned a crowd of 2,000 gathered in the most famous protestant cathedral in the world.
He got to within three metres of the Queen, who sat emotionless with Prince Phillip at her side. Church officials and several black worshippers surrounded the man, wrestling him to the ground but quickly unhanded him as he shouted, “Let go of me.”
“This is an insult,” the man said, urging the large throng of blacks in the crowd to walk out of the commemorative service, organized by the Church of England, which itself owned some 600 slaves on Caribbean plantations.
Johnny Hogg, a descendant of William Wilberforce, the most famous of the abolitionists who pushed the British Parliament to end the slave trade in 1807 was one seat over from the protestor when he rose in the middle of a prayer.
“This is a public relations disaster on a day like today,” Hogg said. “Four white people wrestling a black guy to the ground is not what you want (in news clips and pictures),” he said.
The one-hour service featured African drummers, the Adventist Gospel Ensemble singing traditional Negro spirituals, words of 18th century black British abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, and re-enactment of a Wilberforce speech.
The protestor had a press pass and sat in the first row of journalists. The Queen passed within inches of him during the procession. But it was about 40 minutes into the service before he showed his true colours, walking to the front of the rostrum.
He was arrested outside the Abbey as other protestors shouted slogans insupport.
The national service marked a peak in events to mark the bicentenary of the constitutional ending of the slave trade between Africa and the British colonies. Slavery continued officially until 1834 and the legacy continues.
In his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, Rowan Williams said:
“We who are heirs of the slave-owning and slave-trading nations of the past have to face the fact that our historic prosperity was built in large part on this atrocity; those who are heirs of the communities ravaged by the slave trade know very well that much of their present suffering and struggling in the result of centuries of abuse.”
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