Hackney MP Diane Abbott in Twitter race row

Hackney MP Diane Abbott has been forced to apologise amid calls for her resignation after claiming “white people love playing ‘divide & rule’”.

The shadow public health minister, who is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, caused a storm after posting the statement on the micro-blogging website Twitter with the hashtag #tacticasoldascolonialism.

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi demanded an apology and her resignation, insisting Labour leader Ed Miliband should sack her otherwise.

She said: “A healthy society should not tolerate any form of racism,” adding that Ms Abbott, the first black woman to enter the Commons, “of all people should lead by example”.

The row started on Wednesday when Diane replied to a freelance journalist on Twitter who said she disliked the “lazy” and “monolithic” use of the term “black community” during coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder trial.

Diane responded, posting: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’. We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism.”

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg called for an explanation, saying: “I think what Diane Abbott said was just stupid and crass generalisation.”

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And a Labour Party spokesman said it was “wrong” to make such “sweeping generalisations”, adding: “We disagree with Diane’s tweet. It is wrong to make sweeping generalisations about any race, creed or culture. The Labour Party has always campaigned against such behaviour - and so has Diane Abbott.”

But Diane claimed this morning (Thursday) that her comments had been taken out of context. Writing again on Twitter, she said: “Tweet taken out of context. Refers to nature of 19th century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters.”

In a statement, she added: “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”