The Belgian port city of Antwerp took down a statue of late King Leopold II on Tuesday, days after it was daubed with paint by anti-racism protesters.

Statues of Leopold have long been a target of activists because of his record of brutal colonial rule in Belgium's former central African colonies.

The movement has gained momentum in recent days after the latest US police killing of an unarmed black suspect triggered a global wave of protest.

Johan Vermant, a spokesman for Antwerp's mayor Bart de Wever, said: "The statue was seriously vandalised last week and needs to be restored by the Middelheim sculpture museum."

But he added that it probably would not be returned to its public pedestal next to a church in the Antwerp district of Ekeren.

"Because of the renovation work planned for 2023 in the square in which it was placed, the statue will not be replaced. It will probably become part of the museum collection."

A spokeswoman for the Middelheim Museum confirmed they had received the statue and said they would give it the once over before confirming what steps to take.

The removal of the Antwerp statue comes as US cities dismantle several monuments to Civil War leaders associated with the Confederacy's defence of slavery.

A statue of Belgium's King Leopold II has been taken down in Antwerp as protests grow over his brutal colonial legacy
A statue of Belgium's King Leopold II has been taken down in Antwerp as protests grow over his brutal colonial legacy Belga / JONAS ROOSENS

The orderly removal of Leopold also comes after a crowd of protesters in the British city of Bristol tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and threw it into the harbour.

Leopold II was King of the Belgians from 1865 to 1909, the longest reign in the young kingdom's short independent history, and is honoured with several monuments.

His record in Belgium's African colonies, where he ran and exploited the then "Congo Free State" as a personal domain is much more controversial.

Historians record that Belgian rule of what is now the independent Democratic Republic of Congo was brutal even by the standards of European empires of the era.

Millions of Congolese were killed or maimed working in rubber plantations and in military expeditions while Leopold amassed a huge personal fortune.

While the former king and some of his most notorious lieutenants are still honoured in street names and statues, protests have been growing over his legacy.

More than 64,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the Belgium's capital Brussels take down its Leopold II statues.

And last week "Black Lives matter" protests erupted in Antwerp, Brussels and Liege.