World

Belgian foreign minister causes stir with blackened face; says it is charity tradition

  • FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 file photo, Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, left, speaks with EU Counter-Terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove during the Belgian diplomatic days at the Egmont Palace. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is coming under criticism for appearing with a blackened face at a charity event on Saturday, March 14, 2015, raising questions about Belgium's sensitivity toward racism. Reynders insisted he blackened his face only as part of a century-old tradition that is part of a charity event for the poor. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

    FILE - In this Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 file photo, Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, left, speaks with EU Counter-Terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove during the Belgian diplomatic days at the Egmont Palace. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is coming under criticism for appearing with a blackened face at a charity event on Saturday, March 14, 2015, raising questions about Belgium's sensitivity toward racism. Reynders insisted he blackened his face only as part of a century-old tradition that is part of a charity event for the poor. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 file photo, an actor portraying Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) speaks with children at the House of the Sint in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is coming under criticism for appearing with a blackened face at a charity event on Saturday, March 14, 2015, raising questions about Belgium's sensitivity toward racism. Reynders insisted he blackened his face only as part of a century-old tradition that is part of a charity event for the poor. But human rights groups were outraged by his action over the weekend. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

    In this Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014 file photo, an actor portraying Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) speaks with children at the House of the Sint in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is coming under criticism for appearing with a blackened face at a charity event on Saturday, March 14, 2015, raising questions about Belgium's sensitivity toward racism. Reynders insisted he blackened his face only as part of a century-old tradition that is part of a charity event for the poor. But human rights groups were outraged by his action over the weekend. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)  (The Associated Press)

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders is coming under criticism for appearing with a blackened face at a charity event, raising questions about Belgium's sensitivity toward racism.

Reynders insisted he blackened his face only as part of a century-old tradition that is part of a charity event for the poor. But human rights groups were outraged by his action over the weekend.

"This man presents an image of our nation abroad," said Wouter Van Bellingen, head of the Minorities Forum. "This in unacceptable."

Reynders said on his Facebook page that he likes "being part of folklore at Carnival time ... as tradition wants it."

Belgium has also come under criticism for using a character called Black Pete — seen by many as a grotesque black stereotype — as Saint Nicolas's helper.