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‘Fragile, vulnerable’: Iran, China, Russia mock US democracy after Capitol chaos

America’s adversaries unleash scorn at ‘limping’ democratic system, gloat over images of violence in Washington, while allies urge a return to normalcy

Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, sits inside the office of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi inside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Iran, Russia and China on Thursday scorned the scenes of Americans rampaging through the Capitol the day before as they attempted to stop a peaceful transition of power to US President-elect Joe Biden after a democratic election in a country that many around the world have looked at as a model for democratic governance.

Amid the global outrage at the storming of the US Capitol building by angry supporters of US President Donald Trump was a persistent strain of glee from those who have long resented the perceived American tendency to chastise other countries for less-than-perfect adherence to democratic ideals.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that the chaos unleashed on the US Capitol, a globally recognized structure that stands at the center of America’s idea of democracy, exposed the fragility of Western democracy.

“What we saw in the United States yesterday (Wednesday) evening and today shows above all how fragile and vulnerable Western democracy is,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast by state television.

“We saw that unfortunately the ground is fertile for populism, despite the advances in science and industry,” he said. “A populist has arrived and he has led his country to disaster over these past four years.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency called the United States a “fragmented democracy,” while Iran’s pro-government Twitter accounts gloated, circulating photos of the mobs with hashtags that included #DownfalloftheUS.

In China, which has had constant friction with the Trump administration over trade, military and political issues, people were scathing in their criticism of Trump and his supporters, citing both his failure to control the coronavirus pandemic and the mob action in Washington.

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as supporters of US President Donald Trump are confronted by US Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Communist-ruled China has long accused the US of hypocrisy in its efforts to promote democracy and advocate for human rights overseas.

The Communist Youth League ran a photo montage of the violence at the Capitol on its Twitter-like Weibo microblog with the caption: “On the sixth, the US Congress, a most beautiful site to behold.” That appeared to mock House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her June 2019 comments in praise of sometimes violent antigovernment protests in Hong Kong.

“The US is not as safe as China, right? I think Trump is a self-righteous and selfish person,” said financial adviser Yang Ming.

Damage is visible in the hallways in the early morning hours of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A senior Russian lawmaker said American democracy is “limping on both feet.”

Konstantin Kosachyov, the chair of the Russian upper house’s foreign affairs committee, said the stunning events in the US capital showed that Washington had no right to lecture other countries on democracy.

“The losing side has more than enough grounds to accuse the winner of falsifications — it is clear that American democracy is limping on both feet,” Kosachyov said in a post on Facebook.

“The celebration of democracy has ended. It has, unfortunately, hit rock bottom, and I say this without a hint of gloating.

“America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it. And, even more so, to impose it on others,” he said.

Moscow has long bristled at US criticism of the state of Russian democracy under President Vladimir Putin, accusing Washington of hypocrisy and condescension.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers jumped on the unrest.

Russian lawmaker Leonid Slutsky attends a meeting on human rights at the State Duma in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

“The United States certainly cannot now impose electoral standards on other countries and claim to be the world’s ‘beacon of democracy,'” the foreign affairs chief in the lower house, Leonid Slutsky, told Russian news agencies.

Some watching from abroad held Trump responsible for the chaos, and there was a widespread condemnation that seemed nurtured by the US president’s often antagonistic relationship with countries around the world. That was especially true by those who have been at the sharp end of American military muscle and punitive sanctions.

“We must call this out for what it is: a deliberate assault on Democracy by a sitting President & his supporters, attempting to overturn a free & fair election! The world is watching! ” Irish Foreign and Defense Minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter, representing a tone of outrage that many world leaders took.

The violence at the US Capitol tarnishes the American insistence that it is a bastion of democracy for countries that have only in recent decades, in some cases, given up autocratic or military-controlled forms of government.

“The beauty of democracy?” with a shrug emoji was the reaction tweeted by Bashir Ahmad, a personal assistant to the president of Nigeria, which has seen several coups since independence — including one led decades ago by President Muhammadu Buhari, who most recently entered the office via a vote.

Some legislatures in Asia — South Korea and Taiwan, for instance — have at times been marred with brawls and screaming, but democracies throughout the region are normally staid versions of European and American lawmaking models.

“This is shocking. I hope this will serve as chance for the Americans to review their democracy,” said Na HyunPil at the Korean House for International Solidarity, a Seoul-based organization. “Trump is entirely responsible for this incident. After his four-year rule, the Americans find it difficult to tell other countries that their country is a good model for democracy.”

Several countries, both allies and antagonists of America, issued travel warnings to their citizens.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney arrives for a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers at the European Council building in Luxembourg, October 13, 2020. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Australians were urged to avoid US protests following what Prime Minister Scott Morrison described as “rather disturbing scenes” in the United States.

Four people died in the violence, a protester who was shot as she forced entry to the Capitol building and three others described as dying of “medical emergencies.”

Malcolm Turnbull, who was Australian prime minister when Trump came to office and was replaced by Morrison in 2018, was much stronger in his condemnation, describing Trump as a narcissistic bully who is only interested in his own power.

“I was appalled,” Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Donald Trump has done more damage to America during his four years, both internally, domestically, and in terms of its international standing, than any of its adversaries could have imagined possible.”

Other friendly countries were similarly shocked at what they described as an attack on American democracy, though some said they believed US democratic institutions would withstand the turmoil.

“Disgraceful scenes in US Congress,” tweeted Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, a staunch US ally for generations. “The United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”

“What is happening is wrong,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement. “Democracy — the right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully — should never be undone by a mob.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, January 6, 2021. (Ian West/PA via AP)

The prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, India’s Narendra Modi, said on Twitter: “Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC. Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests.”

Venezuela, which is under US sanctions, said the events in Washington show that the US “is suffering what it has generated in other countries with its politics of aggression.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has survived US-backed opposition efforts to oust him despite accusations of human rights abuses, civil unrest and a humanitarian crisis that has forced millions to flee the oil-rich country.

“This is insurrection. Nothing less. In Washington,” tweeted Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden.

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