A Dutch Facebook page seeking to preserve the country's fall "Sinterklaas" festival exactly as it is - including clowns in blackface makeup known as "Black Petes" - has received nearly a million 'likes' just 24 hours after it was created.

The swift growth of the "Pete-ition" page reflects the depth of emotional attachment most Dutch people feel to the tradition, and their annoyance at outsiders who judge it without understanding it.

On Tuesday, a UN expert condemned the tradition as racist.

In the festival, St Nicholas arrives in mid-November accompanied by a horde of helpers - the Black Petes, who also have red lips and curly hair.

Opponents say they are an offensive caricature of black people, but supporters say Pete is a figure of fun whose appearance is harmless.

Source: Agencies