SIR Sean Connery last night broke his silence on allegations he condoned violence against women by insisting that abuse could never be justified.

The film star, who last week cancelled a high-profile interview at Holyrood over claims he would be quizzed about his views on the issue, denied he supported hitting females.

The actor told friends yesterday: "I don't believe that any level of abuse of women is ever justified under any circumstances."

His clarification was made days after he pulled out of an event at the parliament because of Presiding Officer George Reid's claim he would be grilled about his views towards women.

Reid, who was set to quiz Connery at the Festival of Politics in August, told a magazine that he would not hold back in the interview.

"He will be asked difficult questions - about did a slap never do a woman any harm, for example, " he said.

Reid's assertion enraged the actor, as Connery had agreed to the interview as a way of helping the parliament raise its profile across the globe. Reid then apologised for the "hurt and annoyance" caused to the former Bond star.

The Presiding Officer had been referring to allegations that Connery justified hitting women.

But the SNP-supporting actor disputes claims he told Playboy magazine in 1965: "I don't think there is anything particularly wrong in hitting a woman, though I don't recommend you do it in the same way you hit a man."

He is also reported to have told Vanity Fair in 1993: "There are women who take it to the wire. That's what they are looking for, the ultimate confrontation. They want a smack."

In addition, Connery has faced allegations from his first wife, Diane Cilento, who said he punched her in the face for being drunk. Her claims, which included him knocking her to the floor, were made in a book that focused on the time she spent with the Scottish star.

But friends of Connery deny the Playboy quote and insist he actually said: "You can do a woman a lot more harm by moral torture than with a slap."

Nationalist leader Alex Salmond has now entered the controversy by backing his friend's decision to pull out of the interview.

Salmond said: "I think his attitude is quite understandable. The interview should never have been set in the context of a 40-year-old misquotation. It set a negative connotation for that particular event. He's correct in believing the event has been compromised."

SALMOND also said the Playboy comments had been widely misinterpreted and insisted Connery did not advocate violence towards women.

The cancelled interview is the star's latest row with Scottish politicians.

The famously truculent actor fell out with former First Minister Donald Dewar after the Labour government attempted to deprive the star of a knighthood.

Hehas also criticised Jack McConnell's external affairs policy, and has blamed the Scottish Executive for leaking details of a complaint made about his charity.

But Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said Connery was wrong to cancel the interview with Reid: "I think he should be prepared to come and talk about it. It was maybe said in the 1960s, but this is about shaping attitudes now. He could do a lot of good if he changed his mind."

A spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats said: "Domestic violence is a serious crime which blights the lives of women and children across the country. Since 1999, the Scottish Executive has taken great strides in tackling domestic abuse and everybody has a responsibility to speak out against it."

Green MSP Shiona Baird welcomed Connery's clarification: "Attitudes change and it's important attitudes do change. If Sean Connery is saying clearly that all forms of violence against women are to be condemned, then I really welcome that."