Haiti condemns 'abhorrent and obnoxious remarks' which Donald Trump calls 'tough'

Haitians reacted with outrage to reports that President Donald Trump questioned why the US would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa.

He spoke during an Oval Office meeting on the eve of the anniversary of the 2010 earthquake, one of the deadliest disasters in modern history.

President Jovenel Moise's government issued a strongly worded statement denouncing what it called a "racist" view of Haitian immigrants and people from African countries.

"The Haitian government condemns in the strongest terms these abhorrent and obnoxious remarks which, if proven, reflect a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States," it said.

Mr Trump was in a closed meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration on Thursday when he reportedly questioned why the US would accept more people from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa, rather than places like Norway.

At first the White House did not deny that the remark was made. Today the president tweeted that his language was "tough" but insisted he did not say anything derogatory about Haitians aside from noting it is a poor country.

Haitians at home and abroad were stunned, and internet message boards and radio stations were flooded with angry and anguished comments.

"It's shocking he would say it on the anniversary," said 28-year-old Natacha Joseph, who was selling rice and beans from a basket near the general hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince. "I will ask Jesus to protect Haiti from the devil, and Trump is the devil."

Motorcycle taxi driver Jean-Paul Maxon said he was angry that the president seemed to be unaware of Haiti's proud history as the first independent country founded by freed slaves.

President Donald Trump hands a pen to Isaac Newton Farris Jr, nephew of Martin Luther King Jr, during an event to honor King, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House today. Pic: AP

"Trump will not last in office," Mr Maxon said. "He attacked the wrong nation."

The government statement also pointed to history, noting that Haitian soldiers fought on the American side against the British in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812.

"The relationship between the two countries has been strengthened by the fact that millions of sons and daughters of Haiti have contributed and will continue to contribute to the prosperity and greatness of America," it said.

Haitian Senator Yuri Latortue said the reported remarks were also galling because they came just before the US marks the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr on Monday.

"Mr Trump spits on the assassination of this black American icon, as well as on a whole generation of young people, black and white, who gave their lives in the civil rights movement," he said.

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to honor Dr Martin Luther King Jr, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House today. Pic: AP

The US and Haiti have long been closely intertwined. President Woodrow Wilson dispatched US Marines to invade the Caribbean country in 1915 after its president was assassinated.

A repressive occupation lasted until 1934. In more recent times, the US supported the brutal dictator "Papa Doc" Francois Duvalier as well as the son who succeeded him until he in turn was ousted.

In the 1990s, US intervention helped bring Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first democratically elected president, back to power after he was ousted in a coup, but then supported his removal in a rebellion in 2004.

After the January 12 2010 earthquake, the US came to Haiti's assistance and was the largest provider of aid. But that support was also a source of frustration since much of the money was spent on US troops that responded to the immediate aftermath and later aid focused on long-term projects that appeared to have little to do with the disaster, such as the development of an industrial park in the north of the country, far from the earthquake zone.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced more than a million, was on the minds of many as Mr Moise and others prepared for a solemn memorial on Friday to mark the anniversary.

The president was expected to lay a wreath at a mass grave where many victims were buried. But government officials were also expected to meet with the highest-ranking US diplomat in the country for an explanation of Mr Trump's reported remarks.

Former Prime Minister Laurant Lamothe said Mr Trump showed "a lack of respect and ignorance" not previously shown by a US president, and "the world is witnessing a new low today".

- AP and Digital desk

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