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Protesters unpacified as family of former British PM apologizes for slave-owning past

A portrait of former PM William Ewart Gladstone, whose father John Gladstone enslaved hundreds of people

The descendants of former British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone have officially apologized for their ancestor’s historical role in slavery in the Caribbean nation of Guyana, calling the practice a crime against humanity.

The Gladstones made the apology at a launch for the University of Guyana's International Centre for the Study of Migration and Diaspora on Friday, while agreeing to pay reparations to fund further research into the impact of slavery.

"Slavery was a crime against humanity and its damaging impact continues to be felt across the world today," Charles Gladstone, William's great-great grandson said, who traveled to Guyana along with five other relatives a day earlier to participate in the event.

"It is with deep shame and regret that we acknowledge our ancestor's involvement in this crime and with heartfelt sincerity that we apologize to the descendants of the enslaved in Guyana," he added.

Gladstone also vowed to support the work of the new university department, adding that his family would create a fund for various unnamed projects in the country as part of a “meaningful and long-term relationship between our family and the people of Guyana.”

He further called on the British government to hold talks with a 15-nation Caribbean trade bloc known as CARICOM that is seeking reparations from Britain and other European nations.

Gladstone urged “other descendants of those who benefited from slavery to open conversations about their ancestors' crimes and what they might be able to do to build a better future."

The Gladstone family’s apology was met with a strong rebuke by several protesters at the university lecture hall.

The protesters held placards reading "The Gladstones are murderers" and "Your guilt is real Charlie. Move quickly to reparations now."

Cedric Castellow, the leader of the protest, dismissed the apology as “perfunctory”, saying Britain and other European countries owe Guyana and the Caribbean billions of dollars in reparation payments.

Guyana President Irfaan Ali also lashed out at the descendants of European slave traders, saying those who profited from the cruel, trans-Atlantic slave trade should offer to pay reparations to today’s generations.

Ali made the remarks ahead of the planned formal apology by the Gladstones, stressing that the apology should also include issues of compensation and reparative justice.

He proposed that those involved in the slave trade be posthumously charged for crimes against humanity.

The president said while he welcomed plans by the family to acknowledge what he called the sins of the past, it implied “an acknowledgement of the cruel nature of African enslavement and indentureship in Guyana and an act of contrition that paves the way for justice.”

John Gladstone owned or held mortgages over 2,508 enslaved Africans in Guyana and Jamaica. He was the father of 19th-century British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and received more than 100,000 pounds in compensation for hundreds of slaves.

The latest development comes as a handful of nations have already apologized for their role in slavery, including the Netherlands.

Last month, Willem-Alexander, the Dutch king, apologized for the Netherlands’ historical involvement in slavery and the effects that it still has today.

He made the remarks while speaking in Amsterdam on the 160th anniversary of the legal abolition of slavery in the Netherlands, including in former colonies in the Caribbean.

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