A municipal employee cleans a statue of famous Italian journalist Indro Montanelli.
A statue in Milan of a famous Italian journalist has been sprayed red and tagged with the words "racist, rapist", becoming the country's first statue targeted since a wave of similar incidents across Europe and the United States.
A city worker tried to spray clean the statue of Indro Montanelli, which stands in a garden of the same name in the northern Italian city, on Sunday morning after it was vandalised the night before, according to a journalist.
An anti-fascist group had called on Milan's mayor to remove the statue because Montanelli bought and married a young Eritrean girl after volunteering for Fascist leader Benito Mussolini's colonial invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.
"In Milan, there is a park and statue dedicated to Montanelli, who until the end of his days said with pride that he bought and married an Eritrean child of 12 years to turn her into a sex slave during the fascist regime's aggression against Ethiopia" the I Sentinelli group said on social media.
Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala rejected the request, receiving the support of Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio.
Montanelli, who died in 2001 at the age of 92, was one of the most decorated and influential Italian journalists of the 20th century, founding the Il Giornale newspaper and serving at the Corriere della Sera.
Franjo Ljuljdjuraj, who walked by the vandalised statue of Sunday, said Montanelli was "a great man".
"It is absurd to be against the people who built the history of Italy and history in general," he said.
Angelo Angelino, a 30-year-old nurse, said he was appalled at the act of "rage" against a "journalist who was absolutely not racist, but simply of his time".
Another Milan resident, Andrea Fares, said that in Montanelli's past there were "somewhat questionable episodes when he was very young and came in a very particular historial context. But that does not justify such an ugly act."
Montanelli's statue has previously been targeted, and was covered in pink paint during a feminist demonstration last year.
But it is Italy's first statue vandalised since anti-racism protests broke out across the world following the US police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
Numerous statues of people with a legacy of racism or colonialism have since been removed or toppled in the United States and, increasingly, Europe.
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