Dutch arrest 60 'Black Pete' protesters at annual procession

15th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Dutch police on Saturday arrested 60 people protesting for and against the controversial "Black Pete" figure during the annual arrival procession of Saint Nicholas in the central city of Gouda, officials said.

"There were 60 arrests on both sides" of the protests, during the children-oriented ceremony attended by thousands and broadcast live on national television, Gouda police spokesman Bobby Marcus told AFP.

Most people were detained for protesting in unauthorised places, and at least one person resisted arrest, Marcus said.

State broadcaster NOS showed images of minor scuffles breaking out on the main square, where Saint Nicholas appears on a balcony, with protesters unfurling a large banner reading "Black Pete Racism".

The debate around Black Pete, the jolly sidekick of the Dutch Saint Nicholas, called Zwarte Piet in Dutch, has divided The Netherlands.

Many say that Pete -- traditionally dressed in a gaudy medieval costume with a blackened face, red lips and an afro wig -- is a racist stereotype dating from the colonial era.

Black Pete's defenders say he is black from coming down the chimney and refuse to admit there might be anything racist about the historic character.

This year Saint Nicholas and dozens of Petes arrived in Gouda aboard a gift-filled boat from Spain in a national event looked forward to by children.

For the first time, the mayor introduced other coloured Petes, angering many.

They include "Cheese Petes" with yellow faces, "Stroopwafel Petes" with striped, light brown faces resembling the traditional Dutch syrup biscuit of the same name and a white-faced "Clown Pete".

Nevertheless, protesters attended Sunday's procession wearing T-shirts reading "Black Pete Colonial Symbol" or "Black Pete Doesn't Fit".

Police spokesman Marcus said it was too early to say whether anyone would be charged over Saturday's protests.

"Police asked protesters to leave (the main square) and go to the designated place near the train station," said Gouda municipality spokeswoman Monique Neve.

"They didn't obey and police took the necessary measures," she said.

At a press conference after the procession, Saint Nicholas was asked if he had followed the Black Pete debate.

"It will all work itself out," Saint Nicholas said.

"Nobody should be worried.

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© 2014 AFP

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