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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will not speak at the Women’s Convention in Detroit this month, his office announced Thursday, just days after controversy surfaced about the senator’s role in the women-led convention.

“I want to apologize to the organizers of the Women’s Convention for not being able to attend your conference next Friday in Detroit,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a news release. “Given the emergency situation in Puerto Rico, I will be traveling there to visit with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and other officials to determine the best way forward to deal with the devastation the island is experiencing.”

Critics lambasted convention organizers last week when it was announced that Sanders would be speaking at the convention, which runs Oct. 27-29 at Cobo Center. Some questioned why a male politician would take such a prominent role at a women’s convention. Others challenged Sanders’ track record as a progressive politician.

National organizer Linda Sarsour, a member of the national board that organized the record-breaking Women’s March in January, defended the decision earlier this week, saying Sanders would simply be a “participant” at the convention. U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters is the headline speaker. She’ll speak on Oct. 28.

“This women’s movement is led by women but we need all hands on deck,” said Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist.

In a statement Thursday, national convention organizers said it was unfortunate Sanders wouldn’t be there, but the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico — which is being exacerbated by the inaction of our federal government — is a critical matter.”

“We understand his leadership is needed in Puerto Rico and, as always, we deeply appreciate his commitment to communities in need,” said organizers in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with him on issues that impact women and all Americans.”

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan

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