Zwarte Piet supporters close motorway to stop demo as Sinterklaas arrives

Zwarte Piet supporters close motorway to stop demo as Sinterklaas arrives

A group of pro-Zwarte Piet campaigners blocked the A7 motorway for a time on Saturday morning, halting two buses taking anti-Zwarte Piet campaigners to the Frisian town of Dokkum ahead of the ‘arrival’ of Sinterklaas. The buses containing anti-racism campaigners were heading for Dokkum to take part in a legal demonstration at a pre-arranged location. However, as the buses neared the town of Joure, several vehicles driven by people from the pro-Piet camp pulled up in front, forcing the drivers to stop. Campaigner Jerry Afriyie told RTL news a motorbike suddenly appeared in front of the bus, causing it to brake sharply. ‘It was too insane for words,’ he said. ‘They are stopping us from exercising our democratic right to demonstrate.’ The police claim it took 20 to 25 minutes to clear the road but said there were no arrests. Other reports suggest the blockade could have lasted up to an hour. The buses carrying supporters of the Kick Out Zwarte Piet movement continued their journey to Dokkum under riot police escort. NRC journalist Kasper van Laarhoven, who was travelling in one of the buses, said after 20 minutes the demonstrators realised that they were not heading for Dokkum after all. The driver pulled up on the hard shoulder and a police officer entered the bus, telling the occupants that the demonstration had been banned after all and that they were being escorted back to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Mayor 'There were indications that there could be more blockades and that pro Zwarte Piet activists were already in the town,' mayor Marga Waanders told a press conference later Saturday afternoon. Asked if the decision to ban the demonstration meant that Piet supporters had had their way, the mayor said: ‘Safety is paramount - the safety of both the anti and pro camps. I am happy that the blockade only led to minor damage to cars and that no-one was hurt.’ The boat carrying Sinterklaas arrived in Dokkum around 12.30 and the welcome ceremony took place without incident. Most of the pieten on board the boat were traditional versions of the Sint’s helper, played by white people in blackface make-up. There were also several pieten with sooty faces. According to research by the AD, most local councils are planning to stick to the traditional black or brown-faced pieten and just 17 will include pieten with sooty faces in their parades. Zwarte Piet is traditionally played by a white person in blackface makeup but over the years protests against the racist stereotype have been growing, culminating in demonstrations and scores of arrests. Dutch celebrities, including actors who have played Zwarte Piet, have also called for change. Chimneys Now in some towns and cities, the blackface pieten are being replaced by other versions, including pieten with different coloured makeup and sooty smudges to show they have been down chimneys to deliver gifts. Amsterdam has said it will move further away from the stereotyped blackface make-up and page attire at its official Sinterklaas parade on November 19. In the capital, Sint Nicholas will be accompanied by almost 400 pieten with long, wavy brown hair and costumes based on the clothes of 16th century Spanish noblemen. Their outfits will also sport the three Andreas crosses to denote Amsterdam. Aan de kade in Dokkum krijgen kinderen weinig mee van alle discussie. Ze staan in de stromende regen de Sint al zingend op te wachten. — Jildou van Opzeeland (@Jilnow) November 18, 2017   More >

Loosdrecht road racer jailed for 4 years

Zwarte Piet supporters close motorway to stop demo as Sinterklaas arrives A father and son who took part in an impromptu road race through a Dutch village which left a 19-year-old woman dead have been found guilty of causing her death by reckless driving by judges in Utrecht. 54-year-old Walter van W, who drove his Porsche into the car driven by Fleur Balkestein, was jailed for four years to be followed by a five year driving ban. His son Casper, 33, was banned from driving for one year and given 100 hours of community service. The court was told that the father and son had driven at speeds of up to 160 kph along a narrow dyke road in what appeared to be a race. An investigation by the Netherlands Forensic Institute showed the two had driven of speeds of at least 167 kph in area where 50 kph is the maximum. ‘They drove absurdly fast,’ the public prosecution told the court during the trial. Van W’s car smashed into the car driven by the young woman as she turned out of a driveway onto the road in Loosdrecht. She died of her injuries in hospital two weeks after the crash took place. Walter van W was also found to have twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. The two had been out to dinner together earlier in the evening. 'Father and son took a risk and as a result, Fleur is dead,' the court said in its verdict.   More >

English proficiency test flawed

Zwarte Piet supporters close motorway to stop demo as Sinterklaas arrives Are the Dutch the European champions when it comes to proficiency in English? The Dutch have come first for the second year running in the English Proficiency Index (EPI), a survey by language course provider Education First (EF). The Volkskrant had its doubts and thought it was time to take a closer look. The media were quick to pick up on the Dutch score but the paper noticed something wasn’t quite right. Proficiency seemed to rise and fall quite arbitrarily. Two years ago, the Swedes pipped the Dutch to the post, while earlier results showed the Norwegians and Danes to be top of the class. The scores also varied wildly per province. Zeeland and Zuid-Holland used to leave the rest of the country behind but now the most proficient English students live in the province of Utrecht, the paper writes. The Volkskrant is not alone in its suspicions. Survey researcher Jelke Bethlehem who works for Leiden University has been debunking the proficiency index since 2015.  A high EPI score is nothing to write home about in any language, he found, as its flimsy foundation is a short test on the Education First website. The index score is based on people who happen to decide to take the test and as such, it is wholly unrepresentative of the proficiency of any nation, Bethlehem says. Incentive ‘The proficiency test is really an incentive to buy one of their language courses. It would be better if an independent organisation did a test,’ Bethlehem told the paper. EF said it is aware of the test's shortcomings and the reasons for such variations. ‘We do say so on our site,’ a spokesman told the paper. ‘But we are the only ones to test proficiency every year and we do listen to feedback.’ In addition, the index is based purely on testing reading and listening skills using multiple choice questions rather than the spoken or written word. So are the Dutch any good at English? Nobody knows, the Volkskrant said. The most recent research it could find is an EU wide study among secondary school students which dates from 2013. The Dutch came out with a better than average score but the Swedes and the Flemish won by a nose, the paper said.  More >

New hiv infections on the decline

Zwarte Piet supporters close motorway to stop demo as Sinterklaas arrives The number of new cases of hiv infection in the Netherlands is declining, but too slowly, campaign group Aidsfonds said on Thursday. The Netherlands is not making enough of the options open to it to end the hiv epidemic, the organisation said. Last year, there were 820 new cases of hiv in the Netherlands, compared with 865 in 2015 and 900 in 2014. Some 22,900 people in the Netherlands are thought to be suffering from hiv. 'Fewer people in the Netherlands are dying from Aids, and those who do are nearly all people who got medical attention too late, did not know they had Aids and had a weakened immune system,' according to the hiv monitoring foundation. In particular, the Netherlands should be focusing on the early identification of hiv infections and starting treatment early, the Aidsfonds said. This, the organisation said, means that the hiv prevention drug PrEP should be included in the basic health insurance package. In 2015, the Amsterdam health board began a three year trial of the drug using 370 gay man and transgenders with a high risk of catching HIV.  More >

Dutch MPs warn about hard Brexit

Zwarte Piet supporters close motorway to stop demo as Sinterklaas arrives The Dutch government should make serious plans to deal with a hard Brexit, which could well become a reality now talks are running into problems, senior MPs warn in a new report. The report, produced by parliament's European affairs committee, states that a no-deal Brexit must be considered a real option. This would be a 'chaotic scenario' with no exit deal or transition period, the MPs said. 'This means that the government must be prepared,' the report's authors stated in a list of 10 conclusions and recommendations, urging Dutch industry - from agriculture and fisheries to logistics - to begin preparing for a no-deal result. The Netherlands is one of Britain's main trading partners and  the country’s third largest export market, according to the CBS statistics office. An estimated €50bn in goods and services flow between the two countries every year. More on this  More >