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Oprah Winfrey 'sorry' for reaction to Swiss handbag incident

Actress Oprah Winfrey, a cast member of the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler", poses at the film's premiere in Los Angeles August 12, 2013. REU
Actress Oprah Winfrey, a cast member of the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler", poses at the film's premiere in Los Angeles August 12, 2013. REU

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey said she was sorry for the uproar and media response caused by her comments about an incident in a Swiss luxury store last month when an assistant refused to show her a $38,100 handbag.

At the premiere of her new film, "Lee Daniels' The Butler," in Los Angles on Monday evening, the U.S. actress and talk show host, recently named by Forbes as the world's most powerful celebrity, said she regretted saying it took place in Switzerland.

"I'm really sorry that it got blown up. I purposefully did not mention the name of the store. I'm sorry that I said it was Switzerland," she told reporters on the red carpet.

"I was just referencing it as an example of being in a place where people don't expect that you would be able to be there," she added.

Winfrey, 59, said in television interviews last week that while she was in Switzerland for the wedding of singer Tina Turner last month a sales assistant in a Zurich shop had refused to show her a luxury handbag by designer Tom Ford, saying it was "too expensive" and instead suggested cheaper bags.

Swiss tourism officials said it regretted the incident and the owner of the Tom Ford boutique, luxury shop operator Trois Pommes, denied racism, saying it was a misunderstanding.

"This has nothing to do with racism. I am here for everyone and the customer is king," shop owner Trudie Goetz said last week.

Goetz added that the sales assistant had wanted to show Winfrey, who earned an estimated $77 million in the year to June 2013, that the bag was available in other materials, which may have given the impression that the shop did not want to sell it to her.

"It's not an indictment against the country or even that store," Winfrey explained. "It was just one person who didn't want to offer me the opportunity to see the bag, so no apologies necessary from the country of Switzerland."

In "The Butler," which deals with race issues and opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, Winfrey plays the wife of an African-American butler who worked at the White House for eight U.S. presidents.

The handbag incident sparked criticism in Switzerland where media reported last week that local governments were given authority to prohibit asylum seekers from using public sports venues like municipal pools, prompting criticism from advocacy group Human Rights Watch. A government minister denied the reports.

(The story was refiled to fixed typographical error in first paragraph)

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; additional reporting by Katharina Bart and Emma Farge; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Cynthia Osterman)

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