Columbus set to become slave to political fashion: An Edwardian statue now kept under wraps in a council shed is causing a row on Merseyside. Jonathan Foster reports

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CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS is in hiding under a tarpaulin in Liverpool as his political opponents plan a poignant revenge for 500 years of New World 'exploitation' - permanent exile amid a slave colony.

The Edwardian statue of the great voyager, which once stood proudly in Sefton Park, now scans the horizons of a hidden- away council depot and its annual excursion back to the park to celebrate Columbus Day on 12 October may be cancelled in the interests of public safety and political correctness.

Granby ward Labour Party, which includes the city's largest black population, wants the wreath-laying and sherry-drinking Columbus Day ceremony banned as an insult to indigenous populations of the New World who endured repression and genocide as a consequence of Columbus's voyage.

The statue is likely to be moved to the Merseyside Maritime Museum to form a focus of proposed slave trade exhibits. 'Columbus brought native Americans back to be slaves,' Sarah Norman, a Labour councillor, said. 'His voyage heralded genocide, imperialism and slavery. It is wrong to continue to commemorate these links in a celebratory way every year.

'Liverpool has been slow to face up to its past and the wealth it derived from the triangular trade.'

Demonstrators last year chanted 'murderer' as the Liverpool Anglo-Ibero-American Society held its Columbus ceremony. Police and council officials have told Joan Roberts, the society secretary, that the 500th anniversary next month of Columbus's landfall might provoke a windfall of dissent.

Ms Roberts said yesterday she was 'upset and angry' by criticism of the ceremony, instigated during the port's heyday at the suggestion of consular staff, including Bolivian, Venezuelan and Peruvian diplomats in Liverpool.

'The purpose has always been to promote trade and friendship, not slavery,' Ms Roberts said. 'Columbus Day is a national holiday in South America and it was a way for Liverpool to look to the future. The Chamber of Commerce were going to put on a lunch to try to bring trade into Liverpool.

'I have no political views, but I was brought up to believe you cannot change the past, but you do what you can in the present. It was this country that first abolished slavery. Why pick on Columbus?'

The Columbus statue was one of seven given to the city by Charles Thompson, a merchant, to adorn the now derelict Palm House in the park. Other statues included the explorer-imperialist Henry the Navigator, and Mercator, the cartographer who signposted the New World. They, too, are now believed to be under protective tarpaulin.

Dawn Booth, chairwoman of the council policy committee, said: 'We are aware of the request to move the statue - we will take into account feelings of all sections of the community.'

Ms Roberts hopes the Merseyside Development Corporation, which last month gave more than pounds 40,000 to subsidise events marking the exploitative consequences of Columbus, will allow the society to transfer its ceremony to a new marina.

(Photograph omitted)