NEW YORK - Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump traded blows in a contentious showdown, with the democratic presidential nominee accusing her Republican rival of targeting Muslims and other minorities, and denounced his plans to ban Muslims from entering United States as “short-sighted”, saying it was “dangerous” to engage in that kind of “demagogic rhetoric” about the community.

"I've met with a lot of them (Muslims), and I've heard how important it is for them to feel that they are wanted and included and part of our country, part of our homeland security, and that's what I want to see, " Clinton said in the second presidential debate held in St Louis, Missouri, on Sunday night.

The 90-minute debate got off to a chilly start when the two candidates for the November 8 election greeted each other without the traditional handshake. It quickly turned into an acrimonious discussion of a 2005 video that emerged on Friday in which Trump was heard using vulgar language against women.

He called her a "devil" who repeatedly lies, someone with tremendous hate in her heart. She called him an abuser of women.

Questioned about his idea of barring Muslims, Trump said his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country has "morphed" into a plan for "extreme vetting" of refugees.  Analysts noted that it was a phrase he's used before without formally renouncing his original proposal.

“The Muslim ban is something that, in some form, has morphed into an extreme vetting from certain areas of the world,” Trump said, when asked if he had backed off the position.

“Would you please explain whether or not the Muslim ban still stands,” one of the moderators pointedly asked. It’s called extreme vetting,” Trump said, but did not say much more about how the vetting process would work - or how it would be different from the current methods used to screen immigrants and refugees for terrorist affiliations.

On her part, Clinton said, "My vision of America is an America where everyone has a place, if you're willing to work hard, you do your part, you contribute to the community. That's what America is. That's what we want America to be for our children and our grandchildren.

"It's also very short-sighted and even dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has about Muslims. We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines. I've worked with a lot of different Muslim groups around America. I've met with a lot of them, and I've heard how important it is for them to feel that they are wanted and included and part of our country, part of our homeland security, and that's what I want to see," she added. 

"It's also important I intend to defeat ISIS, to do so in a coalition with majority Muslim nations. Right now, a lot of those nations are hearing what Donald says and wondering, why should we cooperate with the Americans? And this is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists, violent terrorists."

"We are not at war with Islam," Clinton declared.

About the controversial video, Trump said he was embarrassed, but dismissed it as “locker room talk.” He said former President Bill Clinton had done worse to women.

“Mine are words and his are action,” he said. He also accused Hillary Clinton of going on the attack against women who had alleged sexual misconduct by her husband. Clinton said Trump’s comments showed he was unfit for the White House.

“He has said the video doesn’t represent who he is but I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is,” Clinton said.

Trump attacked Clinton over the emails, saying, if elected, he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

"I didn’t think I’d say this and I’m going to say it and I hate to say it. … If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception," Trump said.

Trump lambasted for

Clinton jail threat

A chorus of critics painted Donald Trump as a dictator in the making Sunday, after he threatened to imprison Hillary Clinton if he wins the White House.

Trump was called "dangerous," "unfit" to be president and drew a series of unfavorable comparisons to Venezuela and Russia after he told his rival he would have her jailed if he were victorious in November.

In debate, Trump said he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into his Democratic rival's email use because she had endangered national security during her tenure as President Barack Obama's chief diplomat from 2009-2013.

Trump said he was embarrassed by the video but dismissed it as "locker room talk." President Bill Clinton had done worse to women, he said.

"Mine are words and his are action," said Trump, who appeared before the debate with women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. In the debate, Trump also accused Hillary Clinton of going on the attack against women who had alleged sexual misconduct by her husband, president from 1993-2001.

A nearly year-long FBI investigation into the emails concluded earlier this year without charges being filed, although FBI Director James Comey said Clinton had been careless in her handling of sensitive material.

Clinton insisted there was "no evidence" that her server had been hacked and that any classified information had ended up in the wrong hands. "I take classified material very seriously," she said.

Trump said: "You said it was fine to delete 33,000 emails. I don't think so."

Clinton shook her head. "Look it's just not true."

She accused Trump of dodging a discussion of policy issues to avoid talking about his campaign because of "the way yours is exploding and Republicans are leaving you."

Muslims take on Trump

Muslim-Americans took to Twitter in droves overnight to mock Donald Trump’s suggestion that Muslims are to blame for Islamophobia in the US, according to Us media reports.

Within minutes, Trump had gotten what he asked for.  “I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri,” tweeted author and Brooklyn College professor Moustafa Bayoumi, referring to Trump’s noticeable hovering behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton throughout much of the debate.

By Monday morning, Bayoumi’s quip had been retweeted more than 70,000 times and had spawned #MuslimsReportStuff, one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter.

Many of the tweets mocked Trump directly.

It was hardly the first time Trump has accused Muslim Americans of failing to thwart potential terrorist attacks by reporting suspicious activity, despite evidence from the FBI and other law enforcement officials to the contrary.

In the wake of the deadly mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub by an American Muslim in June, FBI Director James Comey publicly refuted a statement made by Trump that “For some reason, the Muslim community does not report people like this.”

“They do not want people committing violence, either in their community or in the name of their faith, and so some of our most productive relationships are with people who see things and tell us things who happen to be Muslim,” Comey countered. “It’s at the heart of the FBI’s effectiveness to have good relationships with these folks.”

Still, Trump elaborated on his response Sunday night by repeating the unsubstantiated claim that “many people saw” bombs all over the home of the San Bernardino, California, shooters.

After the debate, Gorbah Hamed, the American-born Muslim woman who asked the Islamophobia question, told the Huffington Post that Trump’s response “wasn’t an answer, actually, it was kind of like an accusation.”

“I’m trying to be hopeful,” Hamed said. “I just hope that Muslims like me are represented well and not made out to be the bad guy.”