US President Donald Trump has addressed global backlash to reports he referred to "shithole" African nations during a White House meeting on immigration, tweeting: "This was not the language used."
- Trump said he used "tough" language during the meeting
- The UN condemned his alleged remarks as racist
- He has been criticised for failing to address African issues, including leaving key ambassadorial posts empty
Mr Trump faced a storm of criticism after the people briefed on the meeting said Mr Trump had questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa, rather than places like Norway.
The White House has not denied the language, nor have the several Republicans in the meeting.
However, without directly referencing the "shithole" comment, Mr Trump addressed the furore in a series of tweets.
"The language used in the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," he said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, designed to protect children brought to the US illegally.
Senator Dick Durbin, the only Democrat in the room, disputed the President's account.
"He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly," Senator Durbin said.
"When the question was asked about Haitians ... he said, 'Haitians? Do we need more Haitians?'"
Mr Trump said his comments on Haiti were "made up" by Democrats.
Haiti's ambassador to Washington called on Mr Trump to apologise to the Haitian people.
In a statement, the Haitian Government called Mr Trump's comments "racist" and said "these insulting and reprehensible statements in no way reflect the virtues of wisdom, restraint and discernment that must be cultivated by any high political authority".
After reports of Mr Trump's comments were made public, the United Nations human rights office rejected the alleged remarks as "racist".
"There is no other word one can use but 'racist'," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva news briefing when asked about the comments.
"You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as 'shitholes', whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome."
"This isn't just a story about vulgar language, it's about opening the door to humanity's worst side," he said.
Too late to halt Africa backlash
Mr Trump's denial came too late to ward off protests from the continent he was reported to have targeted.
The African Union said it was "frankly alarmed" by the President's "very racist" comments.
"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," 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."
Some African governments 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," South Sudan government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.
But South Africa's ruling African National Congress called the reports "extremely offensive", while opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said they were "abhorrent".
"The hatred of Obama's roots now extends to an entire continent," he said.
Deputy secretary general Jesse Duarte said developing countries do have difficulties, but the United States itself has millions of people out of work or without health care.
'Good morning from the greatest most beautiful shithole'
While 40 per cent 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 the vulgar language.
"Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate," South African media outlet Daily Maverick wrote.
"Good morning from the greatest most beautiful 'shithole country' in the world!!!" South African Broadcasting Corporation anchor Leanne Manas tweeted.
"As someone from South Shithole, Trevor is deeply offended by the President's remarks," The Daily Show, a US program, tweeted of its South African-born host, Trevor Noah.
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."
'Thanks, but no thanks'
Many Norwegians also rejected Mr Trump's suggestion that they would be more welcome in the US than other immigrants.
The Nordic country, one of the richest in the world by GDP per capita, was last year named the happiest nation on the planet and is known as a cradle-to-grave welfare state.
"On behalf of Norway: Thanks, but no thanks," tweeted Torbjoern Saetre, a politician representing Norway's Conservative Party in a municipality near Oslo.
Others condemned the US President's comments as inappropriate or racist.
The reference to Norway may have been prompted by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who visited the White House on Wednesday when the President praised Norway for running a trade deficit with the United States and for buying US military equipment.
Ms Solberg, whose office declined to comment on Mr Trump's remarks, is expected to announce soon an expansion of her cabinet to include Norway's Liberal Party, a centrist group that favours strong environmental policies and more immigration.
"The first point of order in the new government declaration: Norway will still not be a shithole country," tweeted Kjetil Alstadheim, the political editor of financial daily Dagens Naeringsliv.