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Adding to tensions with Turkey, Erdogan’s security team charged in assault of D.C. protesters

June 15, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
A month since demonstrators were attacked by Turkish security forces outside the ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. authorities have issued warrants on assault charges. Some suspects have been arrested, but most returned home to Turkey after the attack. Hari Sreenivasan reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A new flash point in the tense and fraying alliance between the United States and Turkey, after Turkish security forces attacked protesters during President Erdogan’s recent visit to Washington, D.C.

Hari Sreenivasan has our report.

And a warning: Images in this report may disturb some viewers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s been one month since attackers launched into protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington.

Now D.C. officials have issued warrants on assault charges.

Police Chief Peter Newsham:

PETER NEWSHAM, Chief, D.C. Police Department: We all saw the violence that was perpetrated against peaceful demonstrators here in Washington, D.C., and it’s just something we’re not going to tolerate.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The demonstrators had gathered at a park shortly after Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met with President Trump at the White House. Then, as Erdogan arrived at the ambassador’s residence, trouble started.

Video showed security guards and supporters teeing off on the protesters. D.C. police officers tried to separate and calm the crowd, but nine people were hurt. Two people were arrested that day, and two more were apprehended by U.S. Marshals yesterday.

Now there are 12 new warrants for Turkish security officers. Most, if not all, returned home after the attack. Two Canadians are also being sought. It’s unclear why they allegedly joined the melee.

Chief Newsham is calling for the suspects to surrender and not fight extradition.

PETER NEWSHAM: If you are a law-abiding person, and you feel like you didn’t do anything wrong, then please present yourself here to answer to these charges.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Erdogan responded to the charges, and said the demonstrators were associated with Kurdish militants who’ve been engaged in a long insurgency against the Turkish government.

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey (through interpreter): Of course we’re going the fight this on legal and political grounds. What kind of law is this? If my security guards are not going to protect me, why would I bring them with me to America?

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, Erdogan’s role in all of this remains a question. After the incident, The New York Times examined the video and spotted Erdogan’s head of security leaning into the president’s car, and then speaking into his earpiece, just before three guards ran toward the protesters.

At the time, the State Department said it communicated — quote — “concerns” to Turkey over the confrontation, and today said — quote — “We will weigh additional actions.”

STEVEN COOK, Council on Foreign Relations: President Erdogan’s security team irresponsible, unprofessional and violent.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Steven Cook is a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. He says relations between Washington and Ankara are as bad as they have ever been.

STEVEN COOK: Charging President Erdogan’s security team with crimes is going to add another element of tension between the two countries. This tension will no doubt be used by the Turkish leadership to advance their own political agenda, which is only going to cause raw feelings here in Washington.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. and Turkey are already at odds over Kurdish forces fighting in Syria. And the Turks have demanded the U.S. extradite exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen for allegedly organizing last summer’s failed coup.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Hari Sreenivasan.

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