BERLIN (REUTERS) - Germany's main anti-immigrant party triggered outrage on Sunday when its vice-chairman said people would not want German black soccer star Jerome Boateng as their neighbour.
Bayern Munich defender Boateng, born in Berlin to a Ghanaian father and German mother, is a stalwart of Germany's national soccer team and is likely to play for his country in next month's European Championship in France.
"People find him good as a football player but they don't want a Boateng as their neighbour," Alexander Gauland, vice chair of Alternative for Germany (AfD) told the Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
Gauland later said he was simply relaying the opinion of some people and not expressing his own view.
The remarks had triggered fury on social media, where hundreds expressed their solidarity with Boateng.
"If you want to win titles for Germany, you need neighbours like him," tweeted Boateng's fellow German international player Benedikt Howedes.
Using a Twitter tag that translates as 'my neighbour Boateng', user Andreas Mayer tweeted: "There's a free flat in our building, but not for Mr Gauland."
AfD party co-chairwoman Frauke Petry apologised to the player in comments to the Bild newspaper. In comments emailed to Reuters AfD co-chair Joerg Meuthen said he would be happy if Boateng were to move to his neighbourhood.
Germany's interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, said every German should be happy to have Boateng as a fellow citizen, team-mate or neighbour.
Boateng himself has not commented on the furore. On Sunday he was playing in a friendly match against Slovakia.
The AfD has seen its support surge amid disenchantment with Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy towards refugees fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and beyond. More than one million migrants arrived in Germany last year.
Last week supporters of German anti-Islam group Pegida criticised a confectioner's decision to print images of non-white soccer players on its chocolate bars instead of the usual picture of a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy.
Germany's national team includes several other players of mixed ethnic background including third-generation Turkish-German winger Mesut Özil.