Dutch convict 34 for blocking anti-racism demonstrators

In this Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, file photo, a child dressed as Black Pete waits for the arrival of Sinterklaas, in Dokkum, northern Netherlands. A co

In this Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, file photo, a child dressed as Black Pete waits for the arrival of Sinterklaas, in Dokkum, northern Netherlands. A co

In this Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 file photo, a Black Pete interacts with children during the arrival of Sinterklaas in Maassluis, Netherlands, Saturday

In this Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 file photo, a Black Pete interacts with children during the arrival of Sinterklaas in Maassluis, Netherlands, Saturday

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A court in the Netherlands has convicted 34 people for blocking a highway to prevent anti-racism demonstrators from protesting a festive parade featuring the Dutch version of Santa Claus — and his helpers, called Black Petes.

Black Pete is often played by white people with their faces daubed in dark makeup. He has been at the center of fierce debate for years between supporters who see him as a traditional children's character and opponents who decry him as a racist stereotype.

Those convicted Friday were ordered to do unpaid community work. The court in the northern city of Leeuwarden said in a statement that by blocking the highway last year, they "took the law into their own hands" to infringe protesters' constitutional right to demonstrate.