First Published: 2017-05-18

US outraged at Erdogan guards’ attack on protesters
State Department criticises Turkish President’s bodyguards for beat pro-Kurdish protesters outside Turkish embassy in Washington.
Middle East Online

The attack was an embarrassment for US authorities

WASHINGTON - US officials expressed outrage Wednesday after a "brutal attack" on protesters by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bodyguards cast a dark pall over his visit to Washington.

The Turkish leader on Tuesday negotiated what could have been a fraught White House encounter with President Donald Trump with some success but, as he pursued his Washington visit, chaos erupted.

Under the eyes of shocked American passers-by, a small group of pro-Kurdish protesters who gathered on the US capital's "Embassy Row" received a taste of the hardline tactics that Erdogan has adopted in his homeland to quell dissent.

Shortly before Erdogan was due to arrive at the Turkish ambassador's residence, members of his notorious security detail pushed past US police and assaulted the protest group.

Close-up footage shared on social media showed Turkish officials dressed in suits beating and punching people in the crowd and, in at least one case, kicking out at a woman splayed on the ground.

Witnesses at the scene said afterward that Erdogan's men had provoked the clash, although there had also been violence in the crowd and that at least one pro-government protester had been hurt.

Washington police were initially overwhelmed but quickly drafted in reinforcements, quelling the fight and making two arrests, but not before 11 people including a US officer were hurt.

The attack was an embarrassment for US authorities, who invited Erdogan to meet Trump despite concerns over his government's increasingly authoritarian clampdown on his domestic media and opposition.

"Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

"We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms."

The State Department did not say whether any further action would be taken, but Washington, DC police said they were studying footage of the incident and trying to identify suspects.

"Yesterday afternoon we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence," a police spokesman said.

"The actions seen outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC stand in contrast to the First Amendment rights and principles we work tirelessly to protect every single day."

The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right to free expression.

- Political violence -

Police said they had arrested two people for assault and identified them as US residents, 49-year-old Ayten Necmi of New York and 42-year-old Jalal Kheirabadi of Virginia.

Social media posts by the two suspects suggest that Necmi is a supporter of Erdogan who came to Washington to celebrate his visit whereas Kheirabadi is a supporter of Kurdish causes.

But the police said they are also working with the US State Department and Secret Service "to identify and hold all suspects" -- suggesting that they are seeking to interview Erdogan's security detail.

News of the clash initially spread slowly in a Washington already transfixed by the scandals dogging the Trump White House and preparations for the president's first foreign diplomatic tour.

But by Wednesday, senior figures were demanding to know how Turkish-style political violence had been allowed to spread to the leafy streets of Washington's plush diplomatic neighborhood.

Senior lawmaker Edward Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- who himself ignored a question about the brawl at a media photo opportunity.

"Alarmingly, this behavior is indicative of the broad crackdowns on political activists, journalists and religious freedom in Turkey that have greatly harmed Turkish democracy in recent years," Royce wrote.

"I ask that you immediately look into this matter and bring all appropriate charges before these individuals leave the United States."

Erdogan's party did not immediately respond to the allegations, but pro-government and state-run media in Turkey blamed the incident on supporters of the PKK and YPG Kurdish armed movements.

According to the Anadolu news agency, Erdogan's guards were forced to intervene after US police took "insufficient security measures" to prevent an illegal demonstration.

The incident was very similar to another in Washington last year when Erdogan's guards roughed up Kurdish protesters outside the Brookings Institution think tank just before the president arrived.

 

Regional tensions rise in Kurds’ independence vote

Erdogan threatens Iraqi Kurds with border closure, oil block

US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria's Raqa

Iran shuts border with Iraqi Kurdistan

Dubai set to become first city with flying taxis

Iraq Kurds start voting in historic independence referendum

UAE announces plans for region’s first nuclear reactor

Putin to visit Erdogan this week for Syria, Iraq talks

Sudan vows to step up efforts to improve US ties

Turkey to launch intervention into Syria — and maybe into Iraq

Egyptian ‘world’s heaviest woman’ dies in Abu Dhabi

Palestinian unity government remains unlikely

Emirati man fights his employer to serve in country’s army

Palestinian PM to visit Gaza next week

Saudi advisory body to tackle female driving ban

Turkey denies closing Iraqi border in response to Kurdish vote

US air strikes kill 17 Islamic State militants in Libya

Yemen's Hadi says military solution 'most likely'

The high cost of Syria’s destruction

Palestinian negotiator awaits lung transplant in US

Kurds ready for contentious vote in Iraq

A Kurdish state: Reality or utopia?

Saudi intercepts missile fired from Yemen

Saudi Arabia marks national day with fireworks, concerts

Iran defies US, tests missile

Turkey warns of 'security' steps in response to Iraqi Kurd vote

Barzani delays Kurdish independence vote announcement

Syria's war off the radar at UN assembly

For many Iraqis, tradition trumps police

Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

Saudi cleric banned for saying women have ‘quarter’ brain

Veteran Syrian activist, daughter assassinated in Istanbul

Tunisia drops forced anal exams for homosexuality

Bomb used in Saudi-led strike on Yemen children US-made

Syria Kurds vote to cement federal push

Police charge teenager over London Underground attack

Nigerian official to meet Turkish counterpart over illegal guns

Thousands feared trapped in Raqa as IS mounts last stand

Iraqi forces achieve first step in new offensive on IS

Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Black Sea coast leaving four dead, 20 missing

Trump praises 'friend' Erdogan

Yemen leader promises UN to open entire country to aid

Rouhani vows Iran will boost missiles despite US criticism

Russia clashes with EU over Syria

UN Security Council warns against holding Iraqi Kurd vote