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By Erin McPike

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday criticized as “shameful” the idea that Christian refugees should be given preference by the United States in decisions over admitting people fleeing violence in Syria.

Obama’s comments came a day after Republican White House contender Jeb Bush said in an NBC interview that while a great majority of refugees should be kept in safe zones in

Syria, there was a “special important need” to help Syrian Christians.

The remarks by Obama and Bush about Syrian refugees followed Friday night’s bombing and shooting attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.

At a news conference in Turkey following a meeting of G20 leaders there, Obama did not mention Bush by name but said he did not think there should be a religious test used to decide which refugees to admit.

“When I hear folks say that, ‘Well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims,’ when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution, that’s shameful,” Obama said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Bush said there should be a thorough screening of refugees coming into the United States and that there should be a focus on creating safe havens for refugees in Syria.

“But I do think there is a special important need to make sure that Christians from Syria are being protected because they are being slaughtered in the country and, but for us, who? Who would take care of the number of Christians that right now are completely displaced?” Bush said.

In his remarks in Turkey, Obama said Republicans should follow the example of former President George W. Bush in not treating the fight against terrorism as a war on Muslims.

“We don’t have religious tests to our compassion,” he said. “And so I think it is very important for us right now, particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard, not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.”

(Reporting by Erin McPike and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Caren Bohan, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a news conference following a working session at the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015. (REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

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