Washington prosecutors have charged a dozen Turkish security and police officers with assault after an attack on protesters during Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan visit to the U.S. capital last month, officials said on Thursday.
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Turkey called in the U.S. ambassador to Ankara for talks following the announcement, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement claiming that the decision to prosecute was wrong, biased and lacking in legal basis. The statement went further yet, claiming that the incident would not have taken place had the U.S. authorities taken the "usual" measures and as such, Turkish citizens could not be held to blame.
The daytime brawl outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in the city on May 16 left nine protesters injured and strained U.S.-Turkish relations. A video posted online showed men in dark suits chasing protesters and punching and kicking them as Washington police struggled to intervene.
The charges send a clear message that the United States "does not tolerate individuals who use intimidation and violence to stifle freedom of speech and legitimate political expression," U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
Once the legal case is concluded, the department "will determine if any additional steps will need to be taken," Tillerson said in the statement read by a spokeswoman to reporters.
"I condemn this attack," Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters at a news conference announcing the charges. "It was an affront to our values."
Arrest warrants for the members of Erdogan's security detail have been issued, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said.
"If they attempt to enter the United States, they will be arrested," he said.
Newsham said there was no probable cause to arrest Erdogan, who watched the confrontation unfold from a nearby car.
A total of 18 people have been charged in the incident. They include two Canadians and four Americans, according to prosecutors.
In a statement, Erdogan said that he will launch a political and legal struggle over the arrest warrants, CNN Turk reported. While they gave no further details of Erdogan's comments, the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper quoted him as saying: "We will do everything, politically, diplomatically, to resolve it."
Two men were arrested on Wednesday. Sinan Narin of Virginia faces a charge of felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor assault, and Eyup Yildirim of New Jersey faces two charges of felony assault and a misdemeanor assault charge.
Some additional suspects still have not been identified, the police chief said.