2016-11-17 / Features

Dutch Police Detain Protesters Before Saint Nicholas Arrival

By Mike Corder

MAASSLUIS, Netherlands (AP) – Dutch police detained dozens of protesters and arrested a man carrying a large knife in a bag amid tight security Saturday for the arrival in the Netherlands of the Dutch Saint Nicholas.

The arrests came as thousands of families lined the historic harbor of Maassluis to welcome the character known as Sinterklaas, with children clambering up trees and street lights to get a better view of the nationally televised event.

The Sinterklaas celebration has in recent years been at the center of a heated debate about race in the Netherlands. That’s because of his helper “Black Pete,’’ who is often played by white people in blackface makeup.

Hundreds of riot police and other officers descended on Maassluis and were given special powers to frisk and detain people to prevent confrontations after a far-right group announced it would demonstrate in favor of Black Pete and opponents of the character said they also would protest.

Even Prime Minister Mark Rutte appealed for calm ahead of the celebrations, using his weekly press conference Friday to tell people on both sides of the debate to “just be normal.’’

About 20 far-right activists were easily outnumbered by police as they demonstrated Saturday, holding up a banner that said: “We are not ashamed of Black Pete.’’

One of them, John Morren, said he was defending a Dutch tradition.

“We are demonstrating for the preservation of a children’s party,’’ he said.

There were no major demonstrations against “Black Pete’’ in Maassluis, likely because of the detentions of two busloads of anti- ”Black Pete’’ protesters in nearby Rotterdam.

Police spokeswoman Marjan Koert said she had no further details about the arrest of the armed man.

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