Latest: Donald Trump referred to 'shithole countries' in Africa repeatedly, says Senator who was at meeting

Update 3.50pm: A US senator has rejected Donald Trump's effort to distance himself from claims that he used vulgar language to describe African countries, claiming the president "said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly".

The president has been accused of questioning why the US should accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa, during a meeting on immigration.

He said on Twitter today that his language during the meeting was "tough" but insisted: "This was not the language used."

But Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who was present at the Oval Office meeting, said "shitholes" was "the exact word used by the president not just once but repeatedly".

He added: "When the question was asked about Haitians ... he said, 'Haitians? Do we need more Hatians?'"

Mr Trump's contemptuous description of an entire continent startled legislators at a meeting about a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the conversation, and immediately revived charges that the president is racist.

The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Mr Trump supports immigration policies that welcome "those who can contribute to our society".

Earlier: Latest: Donald Trump denies referring to 'shithole countries' in Africa

Update 3pm: Donald Trump has today denied reports that he used bluntly vulgar language to question why the US should accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa.

The US president tweeted: "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."

His contemptuous description of an entire continent startled legislators at a meeting about a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the Oval Office conversation, and immediately revived charges that the president is racist.

The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Mr Trump supports immigration policies that welcome "those who can contribute to our society".

Today, Mr Trump also tweeted: "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country," and claimed: "I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians."

He denied suggestions in a report in the Washington Post that he had said "take them out", in reference to Haitians.

Mr Trump said the bipartisan immigration proposal is "a big step backwards" because it does not fund a wall along the Mexican border, and claimed it would force the US "to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly".

He added: "I want a merit based system of immigration and people who will help take our country to the next level. I want safety and security for our people. I want to stop the massive inflow of drugs."

His comments came after two senators presented details of the bipartisan compromise that would extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants, and also strengthen border protections.

The lawmakers had hoped he would back the accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a bitter dispute over protecting the "Dreamers".

But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.

Earlier: 'Shocking and shameful': UN and African Union condemn Donald Trump's alleged 'shithole countries' comment

The UN human rights office has said Donald Trump's reported use of an expletive to describe Africa and other countries could "potentially damage and disrupt the lives of many people".

Speaking in the Oval Office, President Trump questioned why the US should permit more immigrants from "shithole countries" after senators discussed revamping rules affecting entrants from Africa and Haiti, sources said.

Repeating the term attributed to the president a day earlier, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said: "You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 'shitholes'."

He said the comments, if confirmed, were "shocking and shameful" and added: "I'm sorry, but there's no other word one can use but racist."

He said Mr Trump's reported comment could endanger lives by potentially fanning xenophobia: "It legitimises the targeting of people based on who they are.

"This isn't just a story about vulgar language, it's about opening the door to humanity's worst side."

He added that the reported comments "go against the universal values the world has been striving so hard to establish since World War Two and the Holocaust".

Africans also criticised Mr Trump after his reported outburst.

The African Union continental body said it was "frankly alarmed".

"Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice," AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo said.

"This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity."

African governments quickly found themselves in an awkward position. As top recipients of US aid, some hesitated to jeopardise it by criticising Mr Trump, especially as his administration has sought to slash foreign assistance.

"Unless it was specifically said about South Sudan, we have nothing to say," said South Sudan government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.

But South Africa's ruling African National Congress called the comments "extremely offensive".

Deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte said developing countries do have difficulties but the US has millions of people out of work or without health care, and "we would not deign to make comments as derogatory".

Yet while official government channels held fire, African media outlets and the continent's young, increasingly connected population were not being shy.

"Well, that is the perfect definition of racism. That is all I have to say," Kenyan entrepreneur Wangui Muraguri said in Nairobi.

"Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate," South African media outlet Daily Maverick wrote.

Many on the world's second most populous continent reached for their smartphones, long-practiced in defending the vast and varied region from easy stereotypes.

While 40% of the world's poor live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Monetary Fund, the region also has billionaires, reality shows and a growing middle class.

Some quickly decided to own Mr Trump's apparently vulgar language or throw it back in his face.

In Kenya, east Africa's economic hub, political activist Boniface Mwangi pleaded: "Please don't confuse the #shithole leaders we Africans elect with our beautiful continent."

Mr Trump's reported comments highlighted months of concerns about his lack of focus on Africa, including empty ambassadorial posts in key countries like South Africa, Egypt, Congo and Somalia.

A list maintained by the Washington-based American Foreign Service Association says eight posts are vacant.

Mr Trump has expressed negative opinions about the continent in the past.

"Every penny of the 7 billion dollars going to Africa as per Obama will be stolen - corruption is rampant!" he tweeted in 2013.

"He has not only insulted Africans, he has also insulted African-Americans," said Sylvester Odion Akhaine, associate professor of international relations at Lagos State University in Nigeria.

"Internationally, such language will deepen the isolation of the United States, a country that is already losing its global prestige."


KEYWORDS: Donald Trump

 

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