Turkish president: Trump apologized for indictment of security staff in brawl

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says Trump called him about US legal action targeting 19 people involved in clash with peaceful protesters in Washington this year

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan listens to Donald Trump during a dinner at UN headquarters.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan listens to Donald Trump during a dinner at UN headquarters. Photograph: AP

After the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, claimed Donald Trump called to apologize for the US indictment of 15 Turkish security officials over a violent brawl with peaceful anti-Erdoğan protesters in Washington this year, the White House issued a denial.

In an interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff to air on Tuesday night, Erdoğan said, according to a translator: “President Trump called me about a week ago about this issue. He said that he was sorry and he told me that he was going to follow up on this issue when we come to the United States within the framework of an official visit.”

A White House official told the Guardian: “They discussed a wide range
of issues but there was no apology.”

In May, according to witnesses, violence broke out when the Turkish president’s security detail attacked protesters while Erdogan was visiting Washington DC. The protesters were waving a flag of a Kurdish political party. Nine people were injured. One eyewitness, Seyid Riza Dersimi, told the Guardian at the time: “This is crazy – they are kicking us, I could have died – this is America, this is unacceptable.”

In the aftermath of the clash, Senator John McCain demanded that the Turkish ambassador to the United States be expelled from the country in response. “We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States of America,” McCain said in an interview.

The Arizona senator added: “These are not just average people that did this beating. This is Erdoğan’s security detail. Somebody told them to go and beat up on these peaceful demonstrators, and I think it should have repercussions, including identifying these people and bringing charges against them.”

In June, 16 participants in the violence were charged by Washington police for their involvement. A total of 19 were formally indicted in August for a variety of crimes. All were with charged with conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. This charge came with a bias crime enhancement which, under DC law, could increase the length of the sentence by up to 50%.

Two of the men, both of whom are American, have been arrested. The other 17, including 15 Turkish security officials and two Canadians, are still at large.

The incident aggravated the already tense relationship between the United States and Turkey. The two countries have clashed over US support for Kurdish rebels in Syria as well as Turkish demands that the United States extradite Fethullah Gülen, a cleric whom Erdoğan blames for a 2016 coup attempt. In addition, Erdoğan has become the subject of criticism internationally, as he has moved to consolidate power in Turkey, particularly in the aftermath of the 2016 coup, cracking down on press freedom and civil liberties.