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Belafonte stands by criticism of Powell

Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte

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LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Singer Harry Belafonte said Friday he stands by remarks likening Secretary of State Colin Powell to a plantation slave who is "serving his master well" but insisted he never meant to defame the former general.

"This was not a personal attack on Colin Powell," Belafonte said in a statement issued through his New York-based publicist. "However ... speaking on behalf of so many African-American citizens, I have found Colin Powell to be a tragic failure."

Belafonte, 75, who like Powell is a black man of Jamaican descent, responded in racially charged terms when asked during a radio interview on Tuesday about Powell's position in the debate over possible U.S. military force against Iraq.

"There were those slaves who lived on the plantation and there were those slaves that lived in the house," Belafonte said in the interview. "You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him. Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master."

Reacting to Belafonte's remarks a day later on CNN's "Larry King Live," Powell said the singer's slave reference was "unfortunate" and a "throwback to another time and another place that I wish Harry had thought twice about using."

In his follow-up statement on Friday, Belafonte said he did not "intend to defame ... Powell as an individual." But he went on to largely repeat his criticism of the Cabinet secretary.

In characterizing Powell as "serving his master well," Belafonte said, he was referring to President Bush.

"My analogy to the plantation existence I say without regret, and maintain that the overwhelming majority of black people in this country agree that the impending war with Iraq is a colossal mistake," the entertainer said.

Belafonte, who popularized calypso music with such 1950s hits as "Banana Boat (Day-O)" and "Jamaica Farewell," is performing this weekend in San Diego.

Copyright 2002 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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