Some Turks call foul over Obama-Erdogan bat photo

ISTANBUL Fri Aug 3, 2012 6:20pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after a bilateral meeting in Seoul March 25, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after a bilateral meeting in Seoul March 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A photograph of U.S. President Barack Obama holding a baseball bat while talking on the phone to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was intended to show their close relationship, a White House spokeswoman said, after the photo caused a stir in Turkey.

The two leaders spoke on Monday to discuss the crisis in Syria, after which the photograph of Obama seated at his desk, talking on the phone while holding a bat autographed by black-American baseball great Hank Aaron, was released by the White House.

"The photo reveals from whom our Prime Minister receives orders to rule the country," Metin Lutfi Baydar, a lawmaker with Turkey's main opposition party the Republican People's Party (CHP), said in a statement.

CHP vice president Umut Oran asked through parliament if Erdogan had seen the picture and if he would take action against "an implicit insult to Turkey and its citizens".

Some newspapers took a more lighthearted view, with columnist Ahmet Hakan of Hurriyet writing: "We need to do something - retaliation seems to be the most reasonable method."

"Our prime minister needs to hold something in his hand as he's calling Obama," he added, suggesting as possible candidates a slipper, a belt or a rolling pin.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a written statement on Friday that her department had seen the commentary and speculation about the photo in the Turkish media.

"We released the photo with only one purpose in mind, to highlight the President's continuing close relationship with Prime Minister Erdogan and draw attention to the important conversation they had about the worsening situation in Syria," she said.

"The President values his friendship and close partnership with Prime Minister Erdogan on a range of important issues on which the United States cooperates with Turkey," she added.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Alexandra Hudson; Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis in Washington; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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