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AIG CEO apologizes for comments equating bonus criticism and lynching

The logo of American International Group Inc. (AIG) on the outside of their corporate headquarters in New York, November 10, 2008. REUTERS/M
The logo of American International Group Inc. (AIG) on the outside of their corporate headquarters in New York, November 10, 2008. REUTERS/M

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The head of insurer American International Group apologized for a "poor choice of words" on Tuesday after coming under fire for equating criticism of banker bonuses with the lynching of African-Americans in the Deep South.

Outrage over bonuses paid to bankers "was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that - sort of like what we did in the Deep South . And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong," Chief Executive Bob Benmosche was quoted as saying in an interview in The Wall Street Journal.

His words provoked a sharp reaction.

"Simply outrageous. AIG should disavow statement now," tweeted Benjamin Lawsky, the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, called for Benmosche to resign.

"I find it unbelievably appalling that Mr. Benmosche equates the violent repression of the African American people with congressional efforts to prevent the waste of taxpayer dollars," Cummings said in a statement.

Benmosche later apologized for the remarks.

"It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it," Benmosche said in a statement.

Thousands of people, mainly African-Americans and primarily in the South, were beaten, hanged and killed in the 19th and 20th centuries by racist mobs.

In contrast, government officials and activists criticized banks and other financial institutions that handed out bonuses during the financial crisis, despite a still-shaky economy and many of the banks' own roles in causing the economic meltdown beginning in 2008.

(Reporting by Luciana Lopez; Editing by Ken Wills)

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