Dutch man arrested for 'Black Pete' suicide bomb threat

©Agence France-Presse

Some see Black Pete as a harmless children's character but others say it is a throwback to slavery and racist oppression

The Hague (AFP) - Dutch police have arrested a man who threatened in a social media post to blow himself up over plans to sideline "Black Pete", a Christmas-time character provoking accusations of racist stereotyping.

The arrest is the latest controversy over the country's traditional Saint Nicholas side kick, portrayed in winter parades and by many Dutch children with a black face, thick red lips, woolly hair and a golden earring.

"A 49-year-old man from The Hague was arrested Monday afternoon after he threatened to blow himself up in support of the Saint Nicholas tradition," police said in a statement.

"The suspect made a comment on Facebook over the weekend, which led to a lot of social unrest."

Prosecutors examined the comment and decided to arrest the man at his home on Monday but did not find any explosives. He will appear before a judge on Thursday.

"The man in a statement admitted he posted the comment and that he was sorry, after seeing the reaction it created," they added.

Police said several other supporters and opponents of the character -- known as Zwarte Piet in Dutch -- had recently "made strong statements back and forth" on social media but that "as long as no criminal limit is exceeded, everyone can give their opinion".

The arrest is the latest in an increasingly bitter dispute between those who see Black Pete as a harmless children's character and those who say it is a throwback to slavery and racist oppression.

Dutch police arrested five men on Friday after angry pro-Black Pete protesters threw rocks and fireworks at a meeting of a group called "Kick Out Zwarte Piet".

Police will also be on alert on Saturday when Saint Nicholas makes his traditional arrival in the central Dutch city of Apeldoorn.

The parade will for the first time feature no traditional Black Petes, only so-called "Sooty Petes" with dark marks on their faces said to be the result of crawling down the chimney.

In 2015 a UN committee said the character sometimes reflected "negative stereotypes" and was seen as "a vestige of slavery" by many people.

Many Dutch have grown up with the tradition and children often dress as Black Pete as they await December 6, when their shoes are filled with chocolate -- an act of generosity attributed to the saint.