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Dutch reject 'Black Pete' criticism

Country's winter "Sinterklaas" festival, including clowns in black face makeup, stirs debate over racism claims.

Last Modified: 23 Oct 2013 19:48
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Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten (Black Pete's) arrive by boat to bring gifts to children on December 5 [AFP]

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.

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