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Mexican president sees 'overreaction' in conquest apology row

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Mexico City (AFP)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Wednesday there had been an "overreaction" to his request that Spain and the pope apologize for the conquest of the Americas.

The leftist leader reopened a 500-year-old wound Monday when he announced he had sent letters to King Felipe VI of Spain and Pope Francis urging them to apologize for the abuses of the conquest and colonialism.

His remarks triggered a flurry of resentful responses in Spain, where the government said it "firmly rejects" the idea. The Vatican indicated it considered the matter closed, pointing to a series of apologies by various popes over the years, including two by Francis.

"I think there was an overreaction. There was a lot of exaggeration, which also shows the issue is still there beneath the surface," Lopez Obrador, 65, told a press conference.

"There is also a good side to starting this controversy, because it makes us review our past," he said.

He repeated that he is not seeking a "confrontation" with Spain.

"But we do believe ... it would be proper to offer an apology to the indigenous peoples (of the Americas), because abuses were undoubtedly committed," he said.

With the help of horses, swords, guns and smallpox -- all unknown in the New World at the time -- Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in the land now known as Mexico in 1519, leading an army of several hundred men to defeat the Aztec empire.

It was the start of 300 years of Spanish rule over Mexico.

Modern Mexico has a complicated relationship with that past. The nation is the product of "mestizaje," the mixture of the Old and New Worlds. But it is also a history tainted by violence, rape and oppression.

The reaction in Mexico has been less strong than in Spain.

Many questioned why Lopez Obrador, who took office on December 1, was not focusing on more pressing problems, such as the rampant crime and corruption he campaigned against.

On social media, jokes went viral asking whether the president would also demand the United States give back California and the other territory Mexico lost after an 1848 war, or repay France for the baked goods that triggered the "Pastry War," an 1832 conflict started by a French baker's accusation that Mexican officers had looted his shop.

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