World

Men in D.C. clashes identified as Turkish president’s guards

Police secured the street outside the Turkish embassy during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Dave Clark/AFP Photo/Getty Images
Police secured the street outside the Turkish embassy during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

WASHINGTON - A Turkish state news agency said guards for visiting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were involved in a violent clash with demonstrators in Northwest Washington on Tuesday in an incident that District of Columbia officials said left nine people injured.

Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency and pro-government outlets confirmed what many on social media had speculated after seeing videos of men in dark suits and ties - some holding Turkish flags - going after demonstrators outside the Turkish Embassy at Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue. The Turkish news agency blamed the incident on an ‘‘inadequate’’ response by local police.

D.C. fire officials said one of those injured was seriously hurt. Police said at least two people were arrested - one charged with aggravated assault, the other with assault on a police officer. It could not immediately be determined whether either of those arrested were members of the presidential guard. One of the people arrested is from Woodside, New York.

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday condemned the attack on protesters.

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‘‘What we saw yesterday - a violent attack on a peaceful demonstration - is an affront to DC values and our rights as Americans,’’ Bowser said in a statement. ‘‘I strongly condemn these actions and have been briefed by Chief Newsham on our response. The Metropolitan Police Department will continue investigating the incident and will work with federal partners to ensure justice is served.’’

Some of the estimated two dozen protesters were angry at Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent and hardening of power. Others were Kurdish activists, including supporters of a pro-Kurdish political party in Turkey whose leaders have been prosecuted by the Turkish government.

Video of the incident shows protesters being attacked in what appeared to be three waves as D.C. police officers struggled to regain control. The Anadolu news agency framed the guards’ actions as a response to the presence of ‘‘terrorist’’ sympathizers - apparently a reference to Kurdish activists.

The news agency criticized U.S. police for failing to end the dissent; such protests are largely put down in Turkey.

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U.S. authorities had described the protesters as peaceful until they were attacked. In one incident, a man in a dark suit carrying a furled flag was seen kicking a demonstrator on a sidewalk, as the victim held his hands protectively to his head. A bullhorn was next to him.

D.C. police did not immediately comment on Wednesday. The U.S. Secret Service, which handles security at embassies, referred questions to the U.S. State Department. No one answered the phone at the Turkish Embassy.

Last year, Erdogan’s guards and protesters clashed outside the Brookings Institution in D.C. during a Nuclear Security Summit, and D.C. police and U.S. Secret Service officers were forced to intervene.

Tuesday’s melee highlighted the political divisions and conflicts that in some cases have roiled Turkey for decades and that have become far more acrimonious and violent of late. After Erdogan’s government survived a coup attempt last summer, authorities have pursued a wide-ranging crackdown on enemies and dissidents. Nearly 200,000 people have been arrested or dismissed or suspended from their jobs.

The government has faced a resurgent threat from militant groups, including the Islamic State and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The militant attacks, and the state’s iron-fisted response, have in turn fed a deepening sense of political polarization in Turkey.

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Erk Acarer, a columnist for the leftist Birgun newspaper, called the conduct by Erdogan’s security ‘‘disgraceful, barbarism,’’ in a post on Twitter.

And Amberin Zaman, a Turkish journalist and public policy scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington, wrote on Twitter that ‘‘if you want to protest, cover Erdogan during his foreign travels wear a flak jacket and a helmet. Say a prayer.’’ Zaman was accused of being a terrorist sympathizer during the fracas outside the Brookings Institution in 2016.

The Washington Post’s Kareem Fahim in Istanbul and Perry Stein, Aaron C. Davis and Victoria St. Martin in Washington contributed to this report.