Erdogan's bodyguards in violent clash with protesters in Washington

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Two arrests made during the altercation at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the US capital

A group of pro-Erdogan demonstrators shout slogans at a group of anti-Erdogan Kurds in Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington (Reuters)
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Thursday 18 May 2017 2:41 UTC

The United States on Wednesday said it was voicing its "strongest possible" concern to Turkey over a street brawl that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during President Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting outside the Turkish ambassador's residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests for assault.

"We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The city of Washington also condemned the "brutal attack on peaceful protesters".

A video posted online showed men in dark suits chasing anti-government protesters and punching and kicking them as police intervened. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders assisted dazed protesters.

Witnesses said members of Erdogan's security detail pushed past Washington police outside the ambassador's residence and attacked a group of supporters of a Kurdish organisation.

The clashes continued despite police attempts to restore order, with some protestors, including women, knocked to the ground before being kicked and punched.

Other videos also showed bloodied protesters on the ground.

Flint Arthur, who took part in the protest, told CNN: “We are protesting [Erdogan's] policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq.”

He added the president’s bodyguards were using the “same sort of suppression of protest and free speech they engage in in Turkey”.

Police said in a statement that the events outside the embassy go against the First Amendment rights they work to protect.

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

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

Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said at a news conference on Wednesday that police had a good idea of most of the assailants' identities and were investigating with the Secret Service and State Department.

'Self-defence'

Turkey's official Anadolu state news agency reported that protesters were chanting anti-Erdoganslogans as the president entered the residence after meeting US President Donald Trump.

"Police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene," the news agency said, and Erdogan's security team and Turkish citizens moved in and "dispersed them."

The Turkish embassy in Washington accused the protesters of ties to the PKK, which it called a terrorist organisation. It said the demonstrators were "aggressively provoking" Turkish Americans who had assembled to greet Erdogan.

"The Turkish-Americans responded in self-defense and one of them was seriously injured," the embassy said in a statement. "The violence and injuries were the result of this unpermitted, provocative demonstration. We hope that, in the future, appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that similar provocative actions causing harm and violence do not occur."

The Metropolitan Police Department said it had arrested two people for assault and identified them as 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.

Yazidi Kurd demonstrator Lucy Usoyan told broadcasterer ABC: “All of the sudden they just ran towards us, someone was beating me in the head nonstop, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’m on the ground already, what is the purpose to beat me?’”

Usoyan also said she was attacked by a pro-Erdogan supporter.

Tensions between Erdogan’s government and the Kurdish minority in the country are high.

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ANALYSIS: The YPG, a grenade in the room at Trump-Erdogan talks

The clash came after Erdogan stood side by side with Trump at the White House. The US President had promised to strengthen strained ties despite Erdogan's objections to the US arming of Kurdish fighters.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region, and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Erdogan said, in reference to Kurdish People's’ Protection Units (YPG) operating in Syria.

He also claimed that the Kurds are using the fight against the Islamic State group as an excuse for action against Turkey. He said: “In the same way, we should never allow those groups who want to change the ethnic or religious structures in the region to use terrorism as a pretext.”

The clashes are not the first incident of Turkish political violence spilling over into Washington. In March 2016, a planned speech by Erdogan descended into violence after protesters clashed with Turkish security personnel.