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Germans in lather over soap star's racist slur

Germany's leading entertainer was last night preparing to fly to Hollywood to apologise for racist remarks that have drawn a curtain on his career.

Harald Juhnke, 67-year-old singer and soap opera star, would be clearing up a "misunderstanding" with a black security guard working at Sunset Boulevard's Mondrian Hotel, according to his agent. The source of this misunderstanding lies in a brief conversation with a guard named Bob Farrell, shortly after the actor assaulted a female hotel guest.

Though Juhnke's speech was rather slurred, owing to the large quantity of vodka he had consumed, onlookers including the actor's son clearly heard him address Mr Ferrell in English with: "You filthy nigger". "Hitler was right," he added for good measure. "The likes of you should have been gassed."

The slur, which Juhnke first claimed not to have remembered and later denied, has whipped up a storm of protest in Germany, with employers rushing to terminate their contracts with the actor. Two public television stations and the private channel Premiere have cancelled shows starring him. A computer retailer pulled the plug on its advertising campaign featuring Juhnke.

The country's biggest star is facing bankruptcy. The advertising contract was worth 1.5m German marks. The canned television serial Clinic under the Palms, to be shot in the Caribbean, would have netted him DM300,000. Also gone are show appearances worth DM250,000, and galas and concerts at DM50,000 a throw.

"Such statements are unacceptable from a German," the spokesman of the right-wing Christian Social Union said. There have been rejoinders from other politicians, including two deputy speakers of the Bundestag.

Juhnke had been thrown out of the hotel bar when he was detained by the guard while chasing a woman through the lobby.

Drunk or not, his racist remarks are punishable by a jail term of up to five years in Germany. Prosecutors in his home town, Berlin, have already begun proceedings.