WASHINGTON — Turkish security and pro-Kurdish protesters clashed outside of a US think tank Thursday ahead of a speech there by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan was in Washington to attend a major nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama. He was giving a speech at the Brookings Institution.
Scuffles erupted as Turkish security moved to clear out about 40 protesters who had gathered outside the building carrying banners of Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and chanting “Erdogan baby killer.”
A small pro-Turkish counter-demonstration also turned up at the scene, with one banner reading, “No difference between PKK and ISIS,” referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Islamic State group.
This should be fine. Erdogan bodyguards try to kick out journalist from inside, Brookings guards stopped. pic.twitter.com/03C2RJBizf
— ilhan tanir (@WashingtonPoint) March 31, 2016
A reporter with US media outlet National Public Radio was kicked by Turkish security during the scuffle, while other agents grabbed one of the effigies and ripped it up.
About 20 Washington police officers tried to separate the two sides.
Erdogan speaking to supporters outside Brookings pic.twitter.com/hrPCYUV0S7
— Brian Reeves (@BrianNReeves) March 31, 2016
Inside the event, Erdogan’s security agents tried to remove at least one US-based Turkish journalist from the room, but Brookings staff intervened and he was allowed to stay.
Erdogan is facing increasing criticism for his crackdown on free speech. The journalist, identified as Adem Yavuz Arslan, has worked at outlets linked to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen — a bitter enemy of Erdogan.
Turkey’s government has moved to seize control of some media outlets linked to Gulen.
This was not the first time Turkish security ran into trouble in the US. In 2011, Erdogan’s bodyguards were involved in a fight with United Nations security during the body’s General Assembly.
AP contributed to this report