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Washington: Donald Trump paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr, one of the principal advocates of the civil rights movement, at a time when the US President is facing accusations of racism for his alleged insult of Haiti, El Salvador and several African countries.

Trump refused to answer questions about the controversy during an event on Friday at the White House, when a reporter twice asked him, "Are you a racist?"

Tributes to Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was planned long before the controversy arose over Trump's remark, and came just before the annual holiday celebrated in the US in King's honour, which this year would be next Monday.

"Today, as we come together to honour Dr. King, we know that America is stronger, more just, and more free because of his life and work," Trump said, Efe news reported.

"Dr. King advocated for the world we still demand - where the sacred rights of all Americans are protected... and our limits and our opportunities are defined not by the colour of our skin, but by the content of our character," Trump said.

Trump then signed the proclamation declaring January 15 a holiday and ignored questions from reporters about his supposed insult he made Thursday during a meeting of senators in the White House.

Trump denied that he ever used the term "shithole countries" to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations, though he admitted using "tough" language in the meeting.

"Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said 'take them out'. Made up by Dems," Trump said on his Twitter account.

Nonetheless, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was at the Thursday meeting on immigration in the White House, said on Friday that Trump "certainly did use that offensive term".

After Trump took to tweeting to deny the accusation, Durbin replied by saying: "It's not true. He said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly."

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