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This July 25, 2012 photo released by ABC shows Jimmy Kimmel hosting his late night show "Jimmy Kimmel Live," in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. ABC says it's moving "Jimmy Kimmel Live" into the thick of the late-night fight against Jay Leno and David Letterman. Starting in January, Kimmel's talk show will take over the 11:35 p.m. time slot long held by the news magazine "Nightline," ABC said Tuesday, Aug. 21. (AP Photo/ABC, Richard Cartwright)

White House weighs in on Jimmy Kimmel China controversy

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House has weighed in on a petition calling for the government to crack down on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," a television talk show that sparked a furor in China in October with a joke about killing Chinese people to avoid paying down U.S. debt to the country.

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More than 105,000 people signed on to a White House petition calling for an apology after the show, broadcast on ABC, included a segment where Kimmel asked a group of children how the United States should pay back the $1.3 trillion it owes to China, the world's second-largest economy.

A 6-year-old said, "Kill everyone in China." Kimmel replied: "That's an interesting idea."

Afterwards, Chinese-American groups protested outside the California headquarters of ABC, which is owned by Walt Disney Co, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry complained. ABC and Kimmel apologized for the segment.

The White House, which accepts petitions and responds to the most popular ones, noted that ABC and Kimmel have "already apologized independently" and said that the comments "do not reflect mainstream views of China in the United States."

"As the president has stated publicly, the United States welcomes the continuing peaceful rise of China," the White House said in its official response to the petition. (Link to petition: http://r.reuters.com/waw85v)

However, the White House also noted that the U.S. Constitution protects free speech and that the federal government cannot force ABC to "cut the show" as the petition had requested.

"It may be upsetting when people say things we might personally disagree with, but the principle of protected free speech is an important part of who we are as a nation," the White House said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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