Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to reporters after attending Friday prayers, faulted the U.S. justice system for indicting 19 people, including 15 members of his security detail, who allegedly attacked demonstrators during his May visit to Washington.
Erdogan called the indictment “a clear and scandalous expression of how justice works in America,” adding that he would discuss the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump during a trip to New York this month.
During Erdogan’s visit to Washington, demonstrators were peacefully protesting outside the Turkish embassy in support of the Syrian Kurdish group the YPG, when they were allegedly beaten by members of his security detail.
Erdogan says the demonstrators were posing a security threat and accused local police of negligence for failing to protect him.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a statement, strongly supported the court indictments against Erdogan’s security agents, saying the U.S. “does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression.”
Relations between the two NATO allies were already strained. Ankara is demanding the United States extradite Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish prosecutors accuse of leading a terrorist network called FETO that is blamed for a failed coup last year against Erdogan.
Erdogan says the FETO organization and the Kurdish insurgent PKK, which the Turkish government calls a terrorist group, are under protection in the United States.
Washington has recently stepped up its military support of the Syrian Kurdish group the YPG in its fight to oust Islamic State militants from their self-declared capital city of Raqqa, Syria. That support has infuriated Ankara, which accuses the YPG of being linked to the outlawed PKK.
Turkey, the United States and the European Union have designated the PKK a terrorist group for its decades-long autonomy push against the Ankara government in Turkey’s southeast.