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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 22:33 GMT
Bush: Senator's comments 'wrong'
Senator Lott (in the middle) with President George W Bush and Senator Strom Thurmond  (seated)
The comments were made at Strom Thurmond's 100th tribute
United States President George W Bush has sharply rebuked Senate Republican leader Trent Lott for comments made last week, which seemed to condone segregation.

The president said the remarks were offensive and wrong and did not reflect the spirit of the country.

Senator Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong and he is sorry. He repudiates segregation because it is immoral

Trent Lott office statement
Mr Lott had said that America would have been better off if the now veteran Senator Strom Thurmond had won on a segregationist ticket in the 1948 presidential elections.

The senator has apologised profusely for his comments, but is facing growing calls for his resignation from leaders of the black community.

"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," he added.

Resignation calls

Mr Bush made the comments in a public speech in Philadelphia to a mixed-race crowd, which gave him a standing ovation.

President Bush
It is unusual for Bush to criticise a party colleague

Correspondents say it is extremely unusual for Mr Bush to criticise a fellow Republican, especially as Mr Lott is poised to become the Senate majority leader following the Republican victory in the US mid-terms.

Mr Bush's criticism fell short of calling for Mr Lott to step down.

"The president does not think that Senator Lott needs to resign," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said after the speech.

Back tracking

Mr Lott's remark, made at Senator Thurmond's 100th birthday party with Mr Bush present, caused an uproar in the country.

Mr Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 when he was governor of South Carolina, had opposed the civil rights policies of President Harry Truman.

Trent Lott
The US media is now probing Mr Lott's past for racist incidents

Since making the comments Mr Lott, a Mississippi Republican, has apologised twice, saying that the comment had been the result of a poorly worded off the cuff remark.

But the BBC's correspondent in Washington, Justin Webb, says many have been unsatisfied with this explanation and reports are emerging in the American press that Mr Lott has supported racism in the past.

For instance, his support of a ban on dating between black and white students at a Christian university.

Mounting pressure

Our correspondent says Mr Lott is now in deep trouble - several senior Democrats have called on him to resign, and the president, eventually, may be forced to do the same.

Shortly after Mr Bush's speech Mr Lott apologised once more, as his office released a statement saying:

"Senator Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong and he is sorry. He repudiates segregation because it is immoral."

Experts say the incident is very embarrassing for the Republican Party, especially as they are currently trying to attract voters from ethnic minorities, who traditionally vote for the Democrats.

See also:

05 Dec 02 | Americas
27 Oct 01 | Americas
15 Jan 01 | Americas
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