Midway through a candid conversation on Twitter with a journalist about the media’s use of the term “black community,” British Labour MP Diane Abbott made a controversial statement she now says was taken out of context:

“White people love playing ‘divide and rule,’ ” she wrote in the tweet, which has now been deleted. “We should not play their game.”

The comment sparked a biting response from party leader Ed Miliband, who told Abbott that her remarks were “unacceptable,” the BBC reports. On Twitter, hundreds of Britons expressed their anger. And in a statement, the Labour Party said: “It is wrong to make sweeping generalizations about any race, creed, or culture.”

Diane Abbott (Tim Hales/AP)

In a follow-up tweet, she explained that what she wrote earlier “refers to nature of 19th century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters.”

Abbott also released a statement saying she apologized for any offense she had caused.

Divide and rule refers to the political, economic and military strategy of breaking up concentrations of power to prevent smaller groups from gaining control. It was a prevalent strategy in 19th century European colonialism.

Many Twitter users pointed out, however, that Abbott used the present tense in her tweet.

When journalists tried to ask Abbott about the tweet, the MP appeared visibly shaken in her responses and then walked off camera:

Abbott’s comments were made as part of a larger conversation with local journalist Bim Adewunmi, who was complaining to the MP about the media’s use of the term “the black community” in coverage of the Stephen Lawrence trial. Lawrence was a black British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in 1993, and whose murder inquiry continues this month.

Abbott also said of the trial, in another tweet: “Stephen Lawrence was particularly badly handled. Family deserved justice.”

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