MACAO -- A 4-ton bronze statue of a controversial 19th Century Portuguese governor of Macao which figured in a political row between Beijing and Lisbon was pulled down without ceremony Wednesday.
The statue of Gov. Joao Maria Ferreira do Amaral, who ruled the Portuguese enclave with an iron hand from 1845 to 1849, was removed from its pedestal near the waterfront seven years before Macao reverts to Chinese sovereignty.
The political row over the 52-year-old statue, which showed Amaral mounted on horseback swinging a sword, began in 1989 when Lu Ping, the chairman of China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, demanded its removal because of its 'colonial symbolism.'
Portugal has ruled Macao, the oldest Western settlement in Asia, since 1557. Located at the estuary of the Pearl River, about 60 miles west of Hong Kong, Macao returns to Chinese rule in 1999 -- two years after the nearby British colony is handed back to Beijing.
Macao Gov. Vasco Rocha Veiira last month agreed the statue on a traffic island along the main waterfront road was an 'unnecessary evocation of a moment of conflict' between China and Portugual and agreed with his predecessor's decision to have it removed.
The 4-ton statue provoked a wide range of views in the 6.5-square- mile territory, where many Portuguese viewed Amaral as a hero who fought for Macao's autonomy from China and pushed through free-port status despite China's strong objections.
For many local Chinese, who make up the vast majority of Macao's population, Amaral was seen as a tyrant who disregarded their traditions and leveled their cemeteries to build roads.
Amaral was beheaded in 1849 by two Chinese peasants near the Barrier Gate that divides Macao and China. Chinese authorities had put a bounty on Amaral's head after the expulsion of Chinese customs officials from Macao.
'After over 30 years in Macao, it hurts to see our statue to come down in only five minutes, without any ceremony,' said a Portuguese- born retired civil servant who asked not to be identified. 'It's a shame.'
But Betty Leung, 38, a Macao-born accountant of Chinese ancestry, disagreed.
'I think it was right to pull down the statue now,' she said. 'It is better than the Chinese kicking it away after 1999. It is better for both Portugal and China.'
No government officials were present for the removal of the statue, which will be stored in Macao before being shipped back to Portugal, possibly for display in a park near Lisbon.