Tokyo governor says 'sorry' over Islam gaffe amid fears of fallout over Olympic bid

TOKYO (AFP) - The governor of Tokyo apologised to the Muslim world on Tuesday after saying Islamic countries have nothing in common but Allah and "fighting with each other".

Mr Naoki Inose, whose city is bidding for the 2020 Olympic Games, was forced into the climbdown after telling the New York Times that 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.

After returning from New York, Mr 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 official Facebook page.

"I had no intention of criticising the other candidate cities at all," Nr Inose said.

"It was extremely regrettable that such an article whose context differs from that of the interview was published."

But on Tuesday, a chastened Mr Inose appeared before television cameras to say sorry.

"There were remarks that can lead to misunderstandings among Islamic people," he told reporters.

"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."

Mr Inose's comments come as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to arrive in Saudi Arabia, on the first stop of a swing through the Middle East that will also include Turkey.

He is expected to hold a summit with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Friday, amid speculation that a Japanese-French consortium is on the verge of signing a multi-billion dollar deal to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant.

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.

In a statement submitted to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Tokyo 2020 said they 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.

"Tokyo 2020 fully respects and adheres to the IOC guidelines for the candidate cities. We have the utmost respect for all candidate cities and have always taken pride in bidding in a spirit based on the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship," it said.

Unlike many other developed countries, largely mono-ethnic Japan does not have a significant Muslim population, and there is little emphasis in the educational curriculum on cultural sensitivity.