Uruguay President José Mujica went to the defense of  Liverpool striker Luis Suárez Thursday, saying he is not racist and that player is still popular at home.

Mujica defended Suárez in a radio interview.

The Uruguay international player was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United player Patrice Evra.

Suárez  was widely criticized last weekend when he refused to shake Evra's hand in their first meeting since the suspension. Evra is black.

Suárez later apologized for the snub under pressure from team management and the main sponsor of the famous English club.

Suárez, a national player for Uruguay, snubbed Evra before Saturday's Premier League game at Old Trafford. This was the players' first meeting since Suárez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing the Manchester United defender in October.

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Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, who passionately defended Suárez during a post-match television interview, and the club's American owners also found themselves under fire. Critics contended this episode reignited the racial issues that have blighted English soccer this season.

However, Suárez, whose career has been filled with controversy, acknowledged he "made a mistake" and said he regretted what happened.

"I have spoken with the manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realize I got things wrong," Suárez said in a statement released on Liverpool's official website. "I've not only let him down, but also the club and what it stands for and I'm sorry."

This saga began Oct. 15 when Suárez repeatedly racially abused Evra during a league match at Anfield. Liverpool, owned by the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, was condemned by anti-racism groups for backing Suárez and allowing players and Dalglish to wear T-shirts featuring Suárez's picture in a show of solidarity before a match against Wigan weeks later. 

Dalglish later tried to dismiss claims the club wasn't interested in fighting racism.

Based on reporting from the Associated Press.

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