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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Uruguay's president says sorry for slur
President of Uruguay Jorge Batlle, left, and President of Argentina Eduardo Duhalde
Mr Batlle(l) went to visit Mr Duhalde(r) to apologise

Uruguay's President Jorge Batlle has offered a tearful public apology for remarks he made on Tuesday in which he described neighbouring Argentines as "a bunch of thieves".


I apologise to you and to the Argentine people

President Batlle
His original comments sparked outrage in Argentina where they were widely broadcast on national television.

In an effort to diffuse the row Mr Batlle flew to the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, where he met President Eduardo Duhalde and apologised, saying he had no wish to damage relations between the two neighbours.

Jorge Battle is nothing if not emotional. On Tuesday, he triggered a diplomatic crisis when he pounded the table in front of a television camera and described Argentines as "a bunch of thieves from start to finish".

"You know the amount of corruption in Argentina", he ranted.

Uruguay's President Jorge Batlle
President Batlle called Argentines 'a bunch of thieves'
Then he went on to describe his frustration with his Argentine counterpart, Eduardo Duhalde, who is struggling to stop the country from plunging deeper into an economic abyss.

"With Duhalde, I can't propose anything," Mr Batlle said.

"He doesn't have political strength, he doesn't have backing, and he doesn't know where he is headed".

The comments caused outrage across Argentina, threatening to undermine what has until now been a relatively stable relationship.

Tearful apology

To diffuse the crisis, Mr Batlle shuttled to Buenos Aires, where he and Mr Duhalde sat side by side in front of the television cameras.

The Uruguayan leader admitted he had made a mistake. With tears rolling down his cheeks, Mr Batlle said, "I apologise to you and to the Argentine people".

He then went on to describe his long personal association with the country, and explained that he had made the remarks after being under considerable pressure to negotiate a way out of his own country's economic troubles, which are a direct consequence of Argentina's crisis.

In response, Mr Duhalde accepted the apology. Not only will he forget this episode, he said, "but nobody will be able to break our common bond".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Greste
"Mr Batlle sat next to his counterpart and made an emotional apology"
BBC News Online explains how Argentina suffered the near-collapse of its economy

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04 Jun 02 | Americas
01 Jun 02 | Business
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
21 Mar 02 | Americas
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