Turkish security scuffles with reporters, demonstrators in DC where Erdogan delivered speech

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who's in D.C. for the Nuclear Security Summit, gave a speech at the Brookings Institution yesterday that was the scene of violent clashes between protesters and Turkish security.

The Hill:

Critics of Erdoğan have accused him of turning into an increasingly authoritarian leader who clamps down on the press to cement his grip on power.

Erdoğan rejected the criticism on Thursday, claiming that any crackdown on journalists was because they were “terrorists” affiliated with the PKK or other groups.

“Inside Turkey’s prisons there are no prisoners who have been incarcerated or sentenced to imprisonment due to their profession or due to their freedom of expression rights,” he said.

“Criticism I have no problems with nobody whatsoever. But when it comes to insult and defamation of course I have problems,” Erdoğan added. “If they were to insult me, my lawyers would go and fight for a lawsuit.”

The Turkish officials’ stance drew condemnation from free speech advocates in the U.S.

"Turkey's leader and his security team are guests in the United States," said Thomas Burr, the president of the National Press Club, in a statement on Thursday afternoon. "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.”

Martin Indyk, the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution, appeared to discourage journalists from asking questions of Erdoğan during Thursday’s event. 

“I also want to make clear that this is not a press conference. This is a discussion with policy people in Washington,” Indyk said during a discussion with Erdoğan. “We’re trying to avoid that.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 14 journalists were jailed in Turkey last year.  

The clashes were captured on several videos.

Since his election last year, Erdoğan has been tightening his grip on the country.  He owns the judiciary and has eliminated all opposition in the armed forces.  The opposition political parties have been fragmented for more than a decade, allowing him to consolidate his position and that of his party.

Turkey is the epicenter of the refugee crisis and will now have to deal with the flood of migrants coming back to Turkey after inking a deal with the EU.  ISIS attacks are escalating in frequency and severity over the last few months, and the war against the Kurds has also spread.  Erdoğan feels besieged, but instead of reaching out to unite the country to deal with the violence, he has cracked down mercilessly. 

So far, he has been able to maintain his power.  But the increasing pressure from refugees and ISIS may erode his base of support and leave him vulnerable.  Neither Europe or the rest of the world can afford to see Turkey descend into chaos.  But Erdoğan's efforts to control the situation are only making things worse.

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