Lott remarks on segregation 'wrong and offensive'

Fri, Dec 13, 2002, 00:00

US: President Bush, in rare criticism of a fellow Republican, said yesterday it was offensive for Senate Republican leader Mr Trent Lott to have said a segregationist candidate for president should have won in 1948.

"Any suggestion that a segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong," Mr Bush said to loud and long applause in a speech about his faith-based agenda.

"Recent comments by Sen Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country," Mr Bush said.

Mr Lott said on Wednesday he made "a mistake of the head, not the heart" by saying last week the nation would have been better off if 1948 segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected president.

The controversial remarks included: "I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

He admitted the comment, made during a 100th birthday tribute to the South Carolina Republican senator, could be seen as offensive and asked for forgiveness.

"He \ has apologised and rightly so. Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals," Mr Bush said. "And the founding ideals of our nation, and in fact the founding ideals of the political party I represent, was and remains today the equal dignity and equal rights of every American."

The White House said Mr Bush would not join the mounting calls for Mr Lott's resignation as Senate Majority Leader, a post he was a heavy favourite to win when the US Congress reconvenes in January.

"The President does not think that Trent Lott should resign," Bush spokesman Mr Ari Fleischer said.

Mr Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and civil rights leader Mr Jesse Jackson each called for Mr Lott's resignation, and former vice-president Mr Al Gore said the remarks were "racist".

In a statement on Monday, Mr Lott apologised for his remarks, which he dubbed "a poor choice of words" that "conveyed to some the impression that I embrace the discarded policies of the past".

"Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologise to anyone who was offended by my statement."

Mr Thurmond had declared in his run for the White House that "all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force the negro into our homes, our schools, our churches".