In this photo taken Jan. 17, 2019, Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa walks to the door of the Sao Bento palace in Lisbon. On Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, the speaker of Portugal's parliament has appealed for calm during a session debating racial tensions and police conduct after the prime minister asked whether his own skin color had prompted a lawmaker's questions. Costa, whose father's family is from India, said to the lawmaker, "It must be because of my skin color that you're asking me whether I condemn or don't condemn" police violence. The comment caused an uproar. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Portugal: Prime minister asks if skin color shaped questions

January 25, 2019 - 8:11 am

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The prime minister of Portugal caused uproar in parliament when he asked if the color of his skin had prompted a lawmaker's questions during a debate on racial tensions and police conduct Friday

"It must be because of my skin color that you're asking me whether I condemn or don't condemn" police violence, Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who is of Indian descent on his father's side, told the inquiring legislator.

Members of the Republican Assembly, Portugal's parliament, shouted and held their arms out wide in astonishment at Costa's comment. The chamber's speaker urged restraint and appealed for calm.

The parliamentary debate took place amid tensions between police and some black residents of Portuguese communities who accused officers of racist behavior, including in their use of force.

Authorities are investigating accusations that police officers needlessly and excessively beat a group of black people when they went to break up a fight in a low-income neighborhood last weekend. Police said officers were physically attacked when they responded to the fight.

Many immigrants and their descendants from Portugal's five former African colonies live in poor suburban areas in the Lisbon region.

An anti-racism group and a far-right movement were planning separate protests Friday, prompting concerns that tensions could escalate.

In the past week, trash cans were set on fire and cars and a bus were torched in troubled neighborhoods with high rates of delinquency. Police have not tied the incidents to the complaints of police racism, saying the damage could be routine acts of vandalism.

No damage was reported Thursday night.

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