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.”
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.
Mr Trump later tweeted that his comments on Haiti were “made up” by Democrats.
After reports of Mr Trumps 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.
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 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.
“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 percent 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.”