Obama calls for 'soul searching' in wake of Baltimore riot
US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press after a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 2, 2015, in Washington, DC (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said rioting in Baltimore emphasized the need for national "soul searching" on the way police forces deal with the public.

Obama, in his first public statement about a Maryland black man who died of a broken spine after being arrested, said such cases are not new.

He denounced those who looted stores and damaged cars in response to the death of Freddie Gray as criminals and thugs, saying their violence unfairly overshadowed the preceding days of peaceful protests.

Obama spoke at length about Baltimore at news conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Susan Heavey)