The paper posted an editorial on its Web site Thursday evening saying the cartoon was meant to mock the federal economic stimulus bill, but "to those who were offended by the image, we apologize."
The piece was posted hours after 200 pickets chanting "Boycott the Post! Shut it down!" marched in front of the paper's office, saying the cartoon echoed racist stereotypes of blacks as monkeys.
The editorial said that "most certainly was not its intent," adding that some media and public figures who have long-standing differences with the paper saw the cartoon "as an opportunity for payback."
Calling them "opportunists," the editorial said: "To them, no apology is due."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped lead the outcry over the cartoon, criticized what he called the paper's "conditional statement" of regret.
"Though we think it is the right thing for them to apologize to those they offended, they seem to want to want to blame the offense on those (who) raised the issue, rather than take responsibility for what they did," he said in a statement.
He said opponents had not canceled plans to picket Friday outside the paper, but they were discussing how to proceed.
The tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., is known for its feisty attitude, provocative headlines and conservative outlook - a mix that has garnered hundreds of thousands of readers, but also spurts of criticism over the years.
The newspaper had stood by the cartoon, which its editor called "a clear parody" about the death of Travis, the chimp police killed Monday after it mauled a friend of its owner. Its editor-in-chief, Col Allan, had said the intent was to ridicule Washington's efforts to revive the economy.
The drawing by longtime Post cartoonist Sean Delonas, published Wednesday, shows a dead chimp and two police officers, one with a smoking gun. The caption reads, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
Obama signed his administration's economic stimulus plan on Tuesday.
The Post was picketed and deluged with angry calls Wednesday and Thursday, with some of Thursday's marchers carrying signs that said "Jail Billionaire N.Y. Post Owner Rupert Murdoch."
"We make them and we break them with our money, and we should shut it down," said protester Angela Brown, who carried a glossy photo of Obama.
Some protesters said the cartoon not only underscored racist tropes but even suggested that Obama should be shot.
"Since when can you call for the killing of the president of the United States?" demanded City Councilman Charles Barron.
The furor attracted the attention of Grammy-winning singer John Legend, who posted an open letter to the paper on his blog Thursday. If the insult wasn't intended, "it was stupid and willfully ignorant of you not to connect these easily connectable dots," he wrote.
NEW YORK AND TRI-STATE AREA NEWS
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