Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said his views on the national tradition of dressing in blackface to portray the character Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) have undergone “major changes.”

His comments came as anti-racism protesters across the Netherlands have taken to the streets in solidarity with George Floyd. The blackface character Black Pete, traditionally portrayed by Dutch people to mark Saint Nicholas day in December, has come under increasing criticism in recent years. The protests have been organized in part by a group called “Black Pete is Racism.”

“I myself have also experienced major changes about Black Pete,” Rutte said during a late-night parliamentary debate Thursday. “I also belonged to that group that said, ‘Black Pete is simply black.’”

He said that his views had been influenced by speaking with people with “a darker skin color” and young children who told him, “‘I feel incredibly discriminated against because Pete is black.’”

Still, Rutte said, the government should not dictate that Black Pete be banned. And he expressed sympathy for those who do not want to let go of “that symbol.”

He said that he believed that the practice “is changing over time under pressure from the societal debate” and his expectation was that in a number of years “you will hardly see any more Black Petes.”

“There are also people who say, ‘I do not want — while I am totally not discriminatory or racist — to be forced to let go of that symbol, which I have never seen as a discriminatory symbol.’ That makes this discussion so nuanced, and so complicated.”