WELLINGTON (AFP) – An outspoken New Zealand Maori politician apologised Thursday after praising slain Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden as a freedom fighter who stood up for his people.
In remarks that Prime Minister John Key slammed as "ridiculous", Independent MP Hone Harawira said this week that positive aspects of bin Laden's life should be acknowledged and urged people not to damn him.
"We have heard nothing but negative things about him from the Americans, but he fought for the self-determination of his people and for his beliefs," Harawira told Maori-language television on Monday.
"Indeed, despite what the media has said, his family, his tribe, his people are in mourning.
"They mourn for the man who fought for the rights, the lands and the freedom of his people. We should not damn them in death but acknowledge the positive aspects of life."
But Harawira backed away from his comments after they were published in English-language media Thursday, saying they were not meant to express support for bin Laden's actions.
"This was a mistake and was not intended," he said in a statement. "Using terror for political reasons is never acceptable.
"I apologise for how I expressed myself."
Key, who on Monday welcomed news of bin Laden's death in US special forces raid in Pakistan, said Harawira's views the Al-Qaeda leader were "misguided".
"Hone Harawira's comments about Osama bin Laden are ridiculous," he said.
"Bin Laden murdered thousands of people, including New Zealanders, and was responsible for many terrorist attacks. The world is a safer place without him."
Harawira, a strong advocate for Maori rights, stirred controversy last year when he said he would not want his children to date white New Zealanders.
He was formerly a member of the Maori Party, a minority partner in the National Party-led conservative government, but left it in February, saying it was not doing enough to advance the cause of indigenous people.