Source AP ©

Gere hits back over kissing controversy in India, apologizes

Richard Gere tried to quell the storm over a public kiss he gave a Bollywood star at an AIDS awareness event, apologizing for any offense.

Gere's embrace and kiss of actress Shilpa Shetty sparked several noisy demonstrations by hard-line Hindu groups and a flurry of legal complaints, which ended with a judge in the northwestern city of Jaipur issuing an arrest warrant for the two stars for violating obscenity laws.

"What is most important to me is that my intentions as an HIV/AIDS advocate be made clear, and that my friends in India understand that it has never been, nor could it ever be, my intention to offend you," Gere said in statement issued by the Heroes Project, an organization the 57-year-old actor co-founded to combat AIDS in India.

"If that has happened, of course it is easy for me to offer a sincere apology," he said.

The embrace, in front of about 4,000 truckers, was a failed parody of a move from Gere's film "Shall We Dance," and "a naive misread of Indian customs," he said.

Gere had earlier taken a harder tone, hitting back at a small group who had complained.

"There is a very small, right-wing, very conservative political party in India, and they are the moral police in India and they do this kind of thing quite often," he told Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" on Thursday.

Gere said he was confident the issue would be sorted out.

"I don't know that anyone has actually gone to jail, it has to go through a process. It goes to a reputable court, and they throw it out," he said on the TV show.

Under Indian law, a person convicted of public obscenity faces up to three months in prison, a fine, or both.

Gere, who left shortly after the kissing incident, is a frequent visitor to India, promoting health issues and the cause of Tibetan exiles. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has his headquarters in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala.

On Friday, Gere won support from lawyers and legal experts in India, who slammed the Jaipur court ruling.

"The order is ridiculous. Even if this hugging and kissing was a bit vulgar, it does not amount to obscenity," India's former attorney general Soli Sorabjee told The Associated Press.

Sorabjee said the judge should not have issued an arrest warrant without hearing from Gere and Shetty.

"They are just seeking publicity," he said.

In his statement, Gere appealed to the media to let the controversy die.

"I would hope that the media could now end the circus around this episode and dedicate its positive resources and expertise to the eradication of HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases," Gere said. "That's what's really important here."