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Turkish president's security scuffles with journalists in DC

March 31, 2016

The scene outside a Washington event where Turkish President Erdogan spoke turned chaotic as his security detail clashed with journalists and protestors. Turkey is under mounting criticism over press freedom.

Washington Nukleargipfel Anti Erdogan Demonstranten
Image: Reuters/J. Roberts

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail scuffled with protestors and journalists outside a prominent Washington, DC, think tank where he gave a speech on Thursday, drawing condemnation at a time Turkey is under the spotlight over the deterioration of media freedom.

The president's security detail removed one opposition Turkish reporter from the speech room, kicked another and threw a third to the ground outside the Brookings Institution, in a melee that provided Washington's foreign policy elite a firsthand glimpse at the state of the press in Turkey.

The event is more likely to be remembered for what happened outside than what Erdogan said inside, as international concern mounts over the autocratic trajectory of Turkey.

Turkish security also tried to remove another opposition Turkish journalist from the speech room, but were reportedly prevented from doing so by Brookings Institute staff.

Amberin Zaman, the Economist's former Turkey correspondent and scholar at the Wilson Center, a DC think tank, reported that after being confronted by security she was called a "PKK whore," a reference to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party. She writes often about the Kurds.

Outside security shouted at and wrangled with a small group of anti-Erdogan protestors, many from the pro-Kurdish camp, at one point taking an effigy of Erdogan in a prison outfit from a protestor and tearing it up.

Anti-Erdogan protestors were met by counter-protests in support of the president.

DC police reportedly tried to separate protestors and journalists from Turkish security.

The National Press Club condemned the incident.

"Turkey's leader and his security team are guests in the United States," Thomas Burr, the group's president, said in statement. "They have no right to lay their hands on reporters or protesters or anyone else for that matter, when the people they were apparently roughing up seemed to be merely doing their jobs or exercising the rights they have in this country."

Turkey is under mounting international criticism over press freedom and free speech.

Journalists are regularly physically harassed, arrested, censured and taken to court for reporting.

The media landscape is dominated by pro-government mouthpieces as the government takes control of some of the few remaining opposition media outlets.

cw/jr (dpa, AP)