Reversing himself after years, Trump concedes Obama was born in US

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WASHINGTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Republican Donald Trump acknowledged for the first time on Friday that President Barack Obama was born in the United States, reversing himself on a controversy that he helped launch but that has become a distraction to his White House bid.

"President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period," Trump, who has questioned Obama's citizenship for years, said at a campaign event at his new hotel in downtown Washington. "Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again."

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Trump accused Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of starting the so-called "birther" controversy during the 2008 primary campaign against Obama, an accusation that independent fact-checking sites have rated as false.

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Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail since the RNC
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Donald Trump and Mike Pence on the campaign trail since the RNC
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for a rally at Duplin County Events Center in Kenansville, North Carolina on September 20, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
ESTERO, FL - SEPTEMBER 19: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Germain Arena on September 19, 2016 in Estero, Florida. Trump is locked in a tight race against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in Florida as the November 8th election nears. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the JetCenters of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Colorado on September 17, 2016. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0534 -- Pictured: (l-r) Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on September 15, 2016 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Bethel United Methedoist Church on September 14, 2016 in Flint, Michigan. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. Republican vice presidental nominee Gov. Mike Pence addresses a news conference with House GOP leaders following a conference at Republican headquaters on Capitol Hill September 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. When asked about former vice presidential candidate Speaker Paul Ryan's reluctance to endorse presidential candidate Donald Trump, Pence said that the House Republicans and the campaign agree on a plan for America. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, greets attendees after speaking at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. Any path Trump might take to the presidency inevitably leads through the Rust Belt and industrial Midwest the places the Republican nominee describes as 'rusting and rotting' war zones of manufacturing decline. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick, US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and Executive Managing Director, North America for BGC, Daniel LaVecchia attend Annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, BGC and GFI at BGC Partners, INC on September 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald)
AKRON, OH - AUGUST 22: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the James A. Rhodes Arena on August 22, 2016 in Akron, Ohio. Trump currently trails Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Ohio, a state which is critical to his election bid. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)
FREDERICKSBURG, VA - AUGUST 20: GOP nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, VA on August 20, 2016 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)
US Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at the Summit Sports and Ice Complex on August 19, 2016 in Diamondale, Michigan. / AFP / JEFF KOWALSKY (Photo credit should read JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, pauses while speaking during a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Two days after Trump said that President Barack Obama had founded Islamic State, and a day after he insisted that he meant what he said, the Republican presidential nominee reversed himself on Friday and claimed the statement was nothing more than sarcasm. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, speaks during a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. Two days after Trump said that President Barack Obama had founded Islamic State, and a day after he insisted that he meant what he said, the Republican presidential nominee reversed himself on Friday and claimed the statement was nothing more than sarcasm. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SUNRISE, FL - AUGUST 10: Republican presidential candidate Donald J.Trump addresses the audience during a campaign event at BB&T Center on August 10th, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Johnny Louis/WireImage)
WILMINGTON, NC - AUGUST 9: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters during a campaign event at Trask Coliseum on August 9, 2016 in Wilmington, North Carolina. This was TrumpÃs first visit to Southeastern North Carolina since he entered the presidential race. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential nominee, is seen on a monitor speaking during an event to discuss his economic plans at the Detroit Economic Club in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Trump is promising the biggest overhaul to the personal income-tax code since Ronald Reagan, as well as a deep cut in the corporate tax rate. He's also pledging to end excessive regulation and lift restrictions on the nation's energy producers. Photographer: Sean Proctor/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 4: Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage being introduced at a rally in Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, August 4, 2016. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
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SCRANTON, PA - JULY 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters on July 27, 2016 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Trump spoke at the Lackawanna College Student Union Gymnasium. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
DORAL, FL - JULY 27: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a press conference at Trump National Doral on July 27, 2016 in Doral, Florida. Trump spoke about the Democratic Convention and called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, waves to the crowd after addressing the 117th annual VFW National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 26: Republican vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks on at the 117th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States as veterans strive for a photo at the Charlotte Convention Center on July 26, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. One day after Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton faced the same group, Trump promised a revision to health care for veterans. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The New York businessman led the birther movement aimed at Obama, who was born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father.

The issue has not been a factor in the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election, but it resurfaced again in recent days, taking the focus of Trump's campaign away from topics such as immigration, trade and the economy, which he has been using to hit Clinton.

Trump has recovered ground against Clinton in recent national opinion polls after revamping his campaign staff in August and taking steps to give a more polished performance on the campaign trail.

But the birther movement, which casts doubt over whether Obama is legally able to be president, incenses black Americans whose votes Trump has been trying to court.

Although Trump had been expected to address the issue from the start of Friday's event, half an hour or so was taken up with testimonials on his behalf from retired military officers. His statement at the very end took up less than a minute.

Earlier, Clinton demanded Trump apologize to the president for bringing up the birther topic again.

"Barack Obama was born in America, plain and simple, and Donald Trump owes him and the American people an apology," Clinton said in an address to the Black Women's Association in Washington. She said Trump was trying "to delegitimize our first black president."

"His campaign was founded on this outrageous lie. There is no erasing it in history," Clinton said.

See Clinton speak out on this controversial issue:

Trump on Thursday declined to say whether he believed Obama was born in Hawaii during an interview with The Washington Post.

"I'll answer that question at the right time. I just don't want to answer it yet," Trump told the newspaper.

His campaign released a statement later in the day saying the candidate is convinced of the legitimacy of Obama's presidency. A U.S. president must be a natural-born citizen.

Obama declined to comment on Trump's revival of the birther issue, telling reporters he had better things to do.

"I'm shocked that a question like that would come up at a time when we've got so many other things to do - well, I'm not that shocked actually," Obama said.

A few years into his presidency, Obama, the first African American to win the White House, released a longer version of his birth certificate to answer those who suggested he was not U.S. born.

Related: Take a peek inside Trump's new hotel:

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Donald Trump's new hotel in DC
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Donald Trump's new hotel in DC
A view of the atrium of the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A view of the lobby of the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A bottle of "Trump" champagne in a guest room at the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
In a nod to its roots, an old mail chute remains on the wall in the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A waiter pours "Trump" champagne for the first guests to arrive at the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The atrium of the Trump International Hotel is seen on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Blake and Elanie Yturralde of Florida, the first guests to check-in at the Trump International Hotel, share a toast on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A doorman stands at an entrance to the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A waiter opens a bottle of "Trump" champagne for the first guests to arrive at the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Cars pass the the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Protesters hold signs outside the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A window washer works atop the glass atrium over the lobby of the Trump International Hotel on its "soft opening" day in Washington, U.S., September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Protesters hold signs outside the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A security guard walks behind protesters holding signs outside the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Protesters hold signs outside the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Workers stand outside the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Sherrie Black of Washington D.C. protests outside the new Trump International Hotel on it's opening day in Washington, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: The Trump International Hotel opens on September 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)
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