Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is railing against the U.S. issuing arrest warrants Thursday against 12 members of his security detail for their role in a furious melee during his May visit to Washington, vowing to “fight politically and judicially” against the move.
Nine demonstrators were injured in the violence when Erdoğan’s bodyguards attacked a crowd protesting his visit to the capital on May 16, sparking outrage in the U.S. and straining diplomatic relations between the NATO allies.
In televised comments Thursday night, the Turkish president questioned the decision to issue the warrants, and said the detail had been there to protect him.
“Why would I take my guards to the United States if not to protect myself?” Erdoğan said.
“They didn’t do anything [to the protesters]. In addition to that, yesterday they detained two of our brothers who intervened… they issued arrest warrants for 12 of my security officials. What kind of law is this? What kind of legal system is this?”
Here’s what you need to know about the escalating row.
- In response to the issuing of arrest warrants, the Turkish government summoned the U.S. ambassador, telling him the decision was “unacceptable.”
- Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying the violence was caused by a failure of D.C. police to take the necessary measures to prevent such a confrontation, “and therefore… Turkish citizens cannot be held responsible for the incident that took place.” It said the decision to issue the warrants was “wrong, biased, and lacks legal basis.”
- Most of the security detail face simple assault charges, although two guards face felony charges of assault causing significant bodily injury.
- The warrants follow the arrests of four pro-Erdoğan demonstrators who were involved in the fracas – two on the day of the incident and two on Wednesday.
- The fallout from the brawl has added to tension between the two countries, which has been building over U.S. military support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a key part of its anti-ISIS efforts in Syria.
- Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the battle against ISIS, has been angered by U.S. support for the YPG, as it considers the Kurdish militias a terrorist group indistinguishable from the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a group that has been fighting for a separate Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey for decades.