MEXICO CITY -- Attempts by Mexican President Vicente Fox to play down a comment widely perceived as racist have further offended U.S. blacks and threaten to harm race relations, U.S. civil-rights activist Al Sharpton said after meeting the Mexican leader on Monday.
Calling for Fox to issue an apology after meeting he described as "blunt," the one-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination said on Monday the comments had caused "outrage" among U.S. blacks.
Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, angered the U.S. government and civil-rights leaders when he said in a speech 10 days ago that Mexican immigrants do jobs "that not even blacks want to do there in the United States."
Fox has since refused to apologize and said his comments were misinterpreted.
"There was no misinterpretation. It is very clear what he said and it is very clear that we understood what he said," Sharpton told reporters.
"If I step on your toe, I should apologize. I should not say that I regret that you think your foot hurts," Sharpton said.
"It has increased a sense of discomfort that we do not need, I think that Mexicans and African Americans and Latino Americans need to be on the same side," he said.
Sharpton's tone differed sharply from that of Rev. Jesse Jackson, another leading U.S. rights activist who met Fox on the issue last week. Jackson called Fox's remark "offensive and inaccurate," but said he was heartened by their meeting and said blacks and Mexicans in the United States should work together to fight common problems.
Fox's office said in a statement that he had proposed to Sharpton that American blacks and Mexicans living in the United States work together to improve their lives.
About 10 million Mexican migrants live and work in the United States, many illegally and in poorly paid manual labor.
Sharpton said he would keep insisting that Fox formally apologize for his comments.
"There is no way you can say that the Mexicans have integrity and they will do jobs that even the blacks won't do without saying by 'even the blacks' that you consider us less than others," he said.
The State Department has criticized Fox's remark as "very insensitive and inappropriate."
© Reuters 2005