Senegalese President Uses New Year's Speech to Apologize to Christians

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade says he regrets offending Christians by saying that Jesus Christ "is not a God."

President Wade says he wants Senegalese Christians to know that he never intended to attack their religion, which he says he respects. In a New Year's Eve address, he said the media took his comments out of context.

Earlier this week, President Wade responded to Muslim complaints about a huge monument, saying that no one objects when Christians pray to Jesus Christ who, he said, is not a God.

Several hundred Senegalese Christians clashed with security forces outside the presidential palace Wednesday. The leader of Senegal's Roman Catholic community, Cardinal Theodore-Adrien Sarr told VOA that the president's conduct was "scandalous and intolerable."

The president's son, Minister of State Karim Wade, issued a statement apologizing for his father's comments. But Cardinal Sarr said the president owed the nation a public apology.

At the end of a long New Year's Eve address, President Wade made that apology, saying that if the understanding of his words caused offense to certain members of the Christian community, he regrets that.

He said he has always worked toward a Senegalese society where Muslims and Christians are tolerant brothers and sisters in the same family. President Wade asked all Senegalese to  put this incident behind them and continue what he called the country's "exceptional adventure" between minority Christians and majority Muslims.

The religious animosity in this usually-tolerant country was sparked by the president's defense of a massive statue outside the capital depicting a man emerging from a volcano pulling a woman behind him with his right arm while holding a baby aloft in his left.

President Wade says the North-Korean-designed monument represents Africa's cultural heritage. Some prominent Muslim leaders have criticized its depiction of human forms as objects of worship. There have also been complaints about the woman in the monument. She is wearing a very short skirt and a wrap of fabric that just covers her breasts.

President Wade says he will personally earn one-third of all tourist revenues from the statue as intellectual property rights and vows to use that money to build schools across the continent.

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