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Turkey says U.S. was ‘aggressive’ toward bodyguards briefly detained in protesters’ beating

Police secure the street outside the Turkish embassy during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyi
Police secure the street outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 16. Turkish security officers were seen hitting and kicking protesters during Erdogan’s visit.
(Dave Clark / AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey summoned the U.S. ambassador Monday to object to how U.S. security personnel responded to a brawl between Turkish staff and protesters in Washington last week.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it wanted an explanation from Ambassador John Bass for the “aggressive and unprofessional actions taken, contrary to diplomatic rules and practices, by U.S. security personnel.”

The ministry said in a statement that U.S. personnel failed to protect Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on May 16 as he accompanied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his first face-to-face meeting with President Trump.

The State Department confirmed the ambassador was summoned Monday to discuss last week’s violence and reiterated concern about Turkey’s security team.

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“As we noted previously, the conduct of Turkish security personnel last week was deeply disturbing. The State Department has raised its concerns about those events at the highest levels,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

The brawl outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence involved protesters critical of the Turkish government and bodyguards for Turkish officials.

A dozen protesters holding flags and banners belonging to various Kurdish groups Turkey says are linked to armed opposition forces were overrun and beaten by Turkish diplomatic security, including Erdogan’s personal guards, leaving at least nine people injured.

Police took two men into custody. One was charged with assaulting a police officer. Two guards from the Turkish security detail were also detained and disarmed briefly, before the State Department intervened to have them released on diplomatic grounds.

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Video showed Erdogan seated in his official car speaking to diplomatic guards, who began to run toward the protesters.

Turkish diplomatic staff in dark suits, along with several presidential guards in green shirts and pants with handguns, then began kicking and beating the protesters, leaving several bloodied on the ground, as police tried to intervene.

The summoning of Bass followed days of unusually stern words from U.S. legislators and the State Department, and statements by police that they would seek to identify and prosecute Turkish diplomatic staff involved in the violence.

On May 17, the State Department issued a statement saying “violence is never an appropriate response to free speech, and we support the rights of people everywhere to free expression and peaceful protest.”

Both Democratic and Republican Congress members have echoed statements by police, calling for an investigation into the brawl and the prosecution of any Turkish embassy personnel involved.

Turkish staff “viciously beat multiple individuals, throwing them to the ground and kicking them in the head,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) in a letter to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Turkish ambassador should be expelled.

Turkey has long criticized European governments for allowing Kurdish protesters to hold demonstrations in Brussels, Berlin, and other major cities during high-profile visits by Turkish leaders.

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U.S. and European officials have designated the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a terrorist organization, but the protests have usually been allowed as protected free speech.

Farooq is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

2:00 p.m.: This article was updated with Times reporting.

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This article was originally published at 7:35 a.m.


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