A conservative ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel apologised on Saturday for insulting Romanian workers and Chinese investors in a recent campaign speech.
North Rhine-Westphalia state premier Juergen Ruettgers said he did not intend to slur anyone in a speech in Duisburg late last month before elections in Germany's most populous state.
"I did not want to insult anyone and if I did I'm sorry," said Ruettgers, a leader in Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, in a statement. "I'm going to continue fighting for workers in North-Rhine Westphalia."
Merkel is running for a second term as chancellor in a federal election on September 27. Ruettgers remarks were widely reported in German media on Saturday and may cause turbulence for Merkel, who has led a quiet campaign based on continuity so far.
"I was speaking for the workers in North-Rhine Westphalia who have lost their jobs because of false decisions made in corporate headquarters despite their excellent skills that are recognised all around the world," Ruettgers said.
Ruettgers speech at first went largely unnoticed in German media. But the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said members of the Social Democrats, the CDU's main rival, filmed his speech and made excerpts available on websites, including YouTube.
In his address on behalf of the Duisburg mayoral candidate Adolf Sauerland, Ruettgers complained about a decision by a Finnish cell phone manufacturer to shut down a factory in nearby Bochum with 2,300 workers and move those jobs to Romania.
"Unlike the labourers here in the Ruhr region, the Romanian workers don't come in to work at 7 in the morning and stay until the end of the working day," Ruettgers said.
"Instead they just come and go when they want - and they simply don't know what they're doing," said Ruettgers, who in 2000 also came under criticism for controversial remarks warning about foreigners from India coming to work in Germany.
Ruettgers also made remarks about Chinese investors that leaders in other parties criticised as defamatory.
"And if all else fails we'll meet up in city hall with some Chinese people about some project. And if at the end of the day they still don't want to invest in Duisburg, we'll have to squeeze their throats until they see Duisburg is beautiful."
Ruettgers' used a campaign slogan "Kinder statt Inder" (Children instead of Indians) in 2000 that was criticised as incendiary. He said his slogan was taken out of context.