BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) - Northern Ireland's Protestant leader has retreated from anti-Muslim comments he made when defending a Belfast evangelist's right to denounce Islam.

First Minister Peter Robinson offered no apology Thursday in his statement emphasizing that he did not "want to insult or cause distress to local Muslims." He said James McConnell, one of Northern Ireland's most prominent preachers, should enjoy freedom of speech from his pulpit to describe Islam as evil.

Robinson's retreat came the day after he told a reporter that he supported the preacher and also distrusted Muslims "if they are fully devoted to Sharia law" - but would trust them to collect his groceries or hand him the correct change in a shop.

Many Protestant and Catholic church and political officials joined Belfast Muslim leaders in criticizing Robinson's remarks.



Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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