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Dutch stage protest against racist Christmas character

Hundreds demonstrate against continued presence of Zwarte Piet at Christmas celebrations

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Amsterdam on Saturday to protest against the continuing presence of Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete, in Christmas celebrations.

Opponents say Black Pete - a traditional character generally appearing in blackface with a frizzy wig and bright red lipstick - is an offensive caricature of black people coming straight from the Netherlands' colonial past and should be dropped from the festivities.

The debate over the figure has gone on for years but it is now electrifying the Netherlands as never before.

"The world is watching and the Netherlands has been found wanting," protester Quinsy Gario told a group of about 500 supporters in Amsterdam.

Mr Gario, a black artist who has emerged as the public face of the anti-Pete movement, has been subjected to insults and death threats for speaking out against the tradition.

But at Saturday's protest he had trouble being heard over supporters chanting his name.

He said that the growing support underlined the change the national debate over Black Pete has recently undergone.

Two years ago, Mr Gario was thrown face down on concrete and dragged away by police for daring to wear a T-shirt with the slogan "Black Pete is racism."

The debate exploded in national media this year after it emerged that UN cultural experts were examining whether the tradition was racist.

UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent head Verene Shepherd told Dutch TV in October that she "does not understand why it is that people in the Netherlands cannot see that this is a throwback to slavery and that in the 21st century this practice should stop."

But two million Dutch people responded to a petition in favour of Black Pete.

Black newscaster Humberto Tan said he has been threatened with lynching after coming out against Pete.

Black people are often told to embrace the tradition or "go home" - a remark that's especially galling for second or third-generation Dutch citizens.

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