Incoming U.S. Senate Majority leader Trent Lott has apologized for comments in which he appeared to endorse segregationist policies. At a news conference in his home state of Mississippi, Mr. Lott said he would not step down as Republican leader, as some of his critics have demanded.
Mr. Lott denounced segregation and racism as 'immoral,' and asked Americans to forgive him for what he called a 'grievous mistake.' "I apologize for opening old wounds and hurting many Americans," he said.
His comments came a day after President Bush criticized Mr. Lott, in a rare rebuke of a fellow Republican, for saying the nation would have been better off if segregationist candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected President in 1948.
Mr. Lott made the comment last week at a celebration marking the 100th birthday of retiring Senator Thurmond, a South Carolina Republican.
The remark ignited a racially-charged political firestorm that has led to increasing calls from Democrats and even some Republicans for him to step aside as Republican leader.
It is a demand he dismissed at his news conference. "I am not about to resign for an accusation for something I am not," he said.
Senator Lott recalled a time when segregation was enforced in the southern United States, and vowed to dedicate himself to creating a society where every American has an opportunity to succeed.
"Not only have I seen the destruction wrought by the racist and immoral policies of the past, I will do everything in my power to ensure that we never go back to that kind of society again," he said.
It was the latest apology from Mr. Lott this week, after he had expressed regret over his comments in written statements and in telephone interviews with television talk shows.
But new accounts in recent days reporting that Mr. Lott had made similar comments and had defended segregationist practices in the past prompted lawmakers from both political parties and many leading U.S. newspapers to call on the senator to better explain his statements.
His remark at Senator Thurmond's party has been an embarrassment to Republicans, who are trying to win the support of more African-American voters, traditional supporters of the Democratic Party. President Bush received only nine percent of the black vote in the 2000 election.