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UPDATE 1-Trump Jr. tweet likening Syrian refugees to poisoned Skittles irks candy maker

(Adds Pence comment)

By Amy Tennery

NEW YORK, Sept 20 The maker of Skittles candies on Tuesday objected to a social media post by Donald Trump Jr. in which the Republican presidential hopeful's son compared admitting Syrian refugees to the United States to eating poisoned pieces of the brightly colored, fruit-flavored treats.

Candidate Donald Trump has opposed letting Syrian refugees enter, while his Democratic rival in the Nov. 8 election, Hillary Clinton, has supported accepting some of those fleeing the war-torn country.

In a post on Twitter on Monday accompanied by an image of the candy, Donald Trump Jr. wrote, "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."

A spokeswoman for Skittles maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co said the company did not feel Trump's analogy was appropriate.

"Skittles are candy. Refugees are people," said spokeswoman Michelle Green, adding that the Mars Inc subsidiary would refrain from further comment, "as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing."

U.S. admission of Syrian refugees has long been a politically sensitive issue, although the country has admitted far fewer than many close allies. Trump has said violent militants could enter the country posing as refugees.

In 2015, Democratic President Barack Obama announced plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, sparking fierce criticism, mostly from Republicans who said the plan could put Americans at risk. His administration announced in August that it would meet that goal.

The younger Trump's tweet drew return fire from the Clinton campaign and many Twitter users.

"Thankful my grandfather was allowed into this country and not compared to a poisonous skittle," Josh Schwerin, a Clinton spokesman, posted on Monday.

Twitter user Neal Rogers on Tuesday, tweeted, "I'd rather die eating a handful of Skittles than live a single day with @realDonaldTrump as president."

Trump's running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, hit back at the Skittles criticism in an NBC News interview.

"It is remarkable to me to see the level of outrage about a metaphor used by (Donald Trump Jr.) when Hillary Clinton's calling for a 550 percent increase in the Syrian refugee program," Pence said.

A year ago, Clinton said she supported the admission of 65,000 Syrian refugees. The former U.S. secretary of state has not updated that figure in recent months but says all refugees should be vetted.

The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Pence's remarks.

Trump adviser Jack Kingston, a former U.S. congressman from Georgia, also defended the tweet in an interview with MSNBC.

"What he was doing was making an illustration. I don't think he was comparing refugees to candy at all," he said.

The hashtag #SkittlesWelcome was trending on Twitter in the United States, as social media users mocked the tweet. (Reporting by Amy Tennery; additional reporting by Emily Flitter and Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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