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House speaker calls Erdogan visit violence ‘indefensible’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrive for the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, May 25, 2017. US President Donald Trump and other NATO heads of state and government on Thursday will inaugurate the new headquarters as well as participating in an official working dinner. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that the violence against peaceful protesters by bodyguards for Turkey’s president was “completely indefensible,” as members of Congress pressed the Trump administration for a more forceful U.S. response.

Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement that Turkey is an important ally and NATO member, but its leaders must “fully condemn and apologize for this brutal behavior against innocent civilians exercising their First Amendment rights” last week outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence.

Also Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a letter to demand that the Turkish government waive any claims to immunity for the bodyguards. The senators also want members of the security detail to be made available for interviews with U.S. law enforcement.

If the Turkish government won’t agree, Tillerson should revoke the diplomatic credentials of Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s ambassador, and rescind visas for other unspecified Turkish government officials, according to the lawmakers, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Ryan is the latest senior congressional Republican to assail the actions of the Turkish security force that accompanied Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on his visit to Washington. Erdogan’s bodyguards were seen on videos hitting and kicking protesters who had gathered peacefully outside the ambassador’s residence.

One video shared on social media even showed Erdogan watching the melee from his car. He later exited the vehicle and peered toward the chaos, according to the video.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said immediately after the incident that the ambassador should be expelled.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, in a May 18 letter with Sen. Patrick Leahy, warned the Turkish government there could be fiscal repercussions if it failed to punish the bodyguards. The senators warned the ambassador of “potential implications for assistance to Turkey” if Turkey didn’t take the matter seriously.

Graham, R-S.C., and Leahy, D-Vt., are the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee that controls the foreign aid budget.

Turkey has appeared to take offense at the mounting criticism. Erdogan’s government summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara this week to protest what it called “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by American security personnel against Turkish bodyguards during the incident.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed that U.S. Ambassador John Bass had been called to discuss the situation with the Turks, and called the conduct of the Turkish guards “deeply disturbing.”

“The State Department has raised its concerns about those events at the highest levels,” Nauert said.

The Trump administration released two members of Erdogan’s detail after holding them briefly. While officials pledged an investigation, the guards are already back in Turkey with Erdogan.

The embassy incident took place at a time when Turkey has strongly objected to an important part of the U.S. strategy for defeating Islamic State militants in Syria.

To Turkey’s dismay, Trump has decided to arm Syrian Kurdish militants in the impending fight to retake the city of Raqqa, an IS stronghold. Washington considers the Syrian Kurds an effective fighting force. Turkey views them as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a three decade-long insurgency against Turkey and is considered a threat to Turkish sovereignty.

Ryan’s statement followed passage by the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a bipartisan resolution condemning the violence.

“This timely resolution sends a clear signal to the Turkish government that we will not allow any foreign government to stifle the rights of our citizens,” said the committee chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif.

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Reach Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

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