By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti summoned the top U.S. diplomat in the country for an explanation on Friday following reports that U.S. President Donald Trump had called the Caribbean nation a "shithole," and requested an apology if the vulgar term had been used.
Haiti's ambassador to Washington, Paul Altidor, said it was distressing that attention was drawn to the comments on Friday, the eighth anniversary and day of remembrance for about 220,000 people killed on the island by a devastating earthquake.
"Haitians don't deserve such treatment," Altidor said. "Haitians should not be seen as a bunch of immigrants who come to the United States to exploit U.S. resources."
Altidor said Trump should apologize for any vulgarity. He said Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue told him the U.S. chargé d'affaires in Haiti had been summoned to explain the reported comments.
Trump on Thursday questioned why the United States would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some as "shithole countries" during a briefing on draft immigration legislation, according to two sources familiar with the comments.
The United States should seek immigrants from Norway instead, he reportedly said, in comments that were widely interpreted as racist.
On Friday, the Republican president denied making the vulgar reference during the meeting.
But Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, who had attended the White House meeting on immigration the previous day, told reporters that Trump had used "vile, vulgar" language, including the word "shithole."
Trump also denied saying anything derogatory about Haitians.
"Other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country," he posted on Twitter. "I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians."
The storm over Trump's alleged language follows a New York Time's story last year about a meeting in which Trump allegedly said Haitian immigrants "all have AIDS." The White House later denied he used the word AIDS to describe Haitians.
The U.S. embassy in Haiti, in a Twitter post on Friday, said "we remember and honor the many lives lost 8 years ago in Haiti," in reference to the quake.
African politicians labeled Trump a racist, while the United Nations human rights office also rejected the reported comments as "racist" and of inciting xenophobia.
Haiti, though the poorest country in the Americas, has played an outsized role in the history of the region. Its 1791 revolution against French rule was the first slave revolt to lead to a free nation, in 1804, making it the second country in the Americas to win independence, after the United States.
Later, Haiti gave refuge and support to Simon Bolivar, help that historians have described as crucial to the Latin American freedom fighter's successful liberation from colonial rule of Venezuela and Colombia, among other countries.
The ambassador said Haiti should be remembered for supporting the American Revolution by sending troops to the Battle of Savannah in Georgia in 1779.
"We have been here for a long time and have contributed to what the United States is today. We even made the ultimate sacrifice when we shed our blood in Savannah."
In 2015, there were 676,000 Haitian immigrants in the United States, up from 587,000 in 2010, accounting for less than 2 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population, according to the Washington based Migration Policy Institute.
Special status given to about 59,000 Haitian immigrants, that has protected them from deportation following the 2010 earthquake, will end next year following a Trump administration ruling last month.
(Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bernadette Baum)