The governor of Tokyo apologised to Muslims yesterday after saying Islamic countries have nothing in common but Allah and "fighting with each other".
Naoki Inose, whose city is bidding for the 2020 Olympic Games, was forced into the climbdown after telling The New York Times that the Islamic nations are belligerent and overly hierarchical.
The comments were seen as a slight on bidding rival Istanbul, which is vying to become the first city from the Muslim world to host the Games.
"Islamic countries, the only thing they have in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes," the governor was quoted as saying through an interpreter in the article published on Friday.
Inose initially defended his remarks, saying the article did not reflect his true opinions. "The story made it seem as if Tokyo was criticising the other bid cities, but my intention was not delivered correctly," the author-turned politician said on his Facebook page.
"I had no intention of criticising the other candidate cities at all," Inose said. "It was extremely regrettable that such an article whose context differs from that of the interview was published."
But yesterday, a chastened Inose appeared on TV to say sorry. "There were remarks that can lead to misunderstandings among Islamic people," he said.
"So now I clearly apologise. If there are remarks that can be misunderstood, it is the inadequacy of my expression.
"I said [people] are fighting in some Islamic countries, but I think it was inappropriate. I want to correct it." Turkish Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kilic called the remarks "unfair and saddening."
"These remarks are not in accordance with the Olympic spirit," Kilic said. "We haven't made any impairing comments about any other candidate city until now, and we won't.
"We like the Japanese people. We respect their culture, their elders and their youth. If the subject is Istanbul then there is no need to talk much."
Tokyo's bid office had already moved to neutralise the impact of the gaffe, amid fears it may fall foul of International Olympic Committee rules prohibiting criticism of other bid cities.
Tokyo 2020 said it had been taken by surprise by the article and said it may have given the impression that it had gone beyond the IOC rules preventing negative comments about other cities.