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Obama, Turkey's Erdogan discuss Turkish protests, Syria

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parlia
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parlia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan this week spoke about recent unrest in Turkey, the White House said on Tuesday, discussing the situation for the first time since protests erupted in late May.

In a phone call on Monday, "the two leaders discussed the importance of non-violence and of the rights to free expression and assembly and a free press," the White House said in a statement.

The United States has repeatedly expressed concern about Turkey's crackdown on protesters but Monday's phone call is the first time the two leaders have spoken directly since the conflict began.

The protests initially began when police used force against campaigners opposed to plans to develop Istanbul's Gezi Park but they quickly evolved into a broad show of anger at what critics call Erdogan's growing authoritarianism.

On Tuesday, the anti-government protests continued as police detained 20 people in raids in the capital Ankara. So far, four people have been killed and 7,500 injured, the Turkish Medical Association estimates.

Erdogan has called the protests a plot against Turkey and has defended the police response, which has included tear gas and water cannons.

Obama and Erdogan also discussed Syria, "including the regime's use of chemical weapons against its own people," the White House said.

The two leaders said they were committed to "pursuing a political solution" in Syria and the need to support opposition groups "to improve their effectiveness," the statement said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)

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