Fighting Breaks Out During Turkish President’s Speech at New York Hotel

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey addressed a Turkish-American group at a Marriott Marquis hotel in New York on Thursday.
Associated Press

Violence broke out at a New York hotel Thursday afternoon when protesters disrupted a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

In the middle of Mr. Erdogan’s speech, delivered in Turkish, a man — one of a handful of protesters — screamed in English: “You’re a terrorist. Get out of my country!” The ballroom at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square instantly erupted, with many attendees chanting Mr. Erdogan’s name to drown out the protesters.

Videos showed the protesters — one of them wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Michael Israel, an American who was killed in a Turkish airstrike while volunteering with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G. — being punched and slapped by several attendees as security personnel removed them from the room. Security also removed at least one person who had assaulted the protesters.

Meghan Bodette, who identified herself as one of six protesters (one of whom was filming), said their goal was “to call attention to the Turkish state’s war crimes and human rights abuses against the Kurdish people,” both in Turkey and in Syria.

“Erdogan should not be able to speak here unchallenged, and we challenged him because the American people need to know that a state that claims to be our ally is hindering the fight against ISIS in Syria and destroying civilian lives,” Ms. Bodette said in a Twitter message.

Halil Demir, a Turkish-American who works for a humanitarian organization, said he had been standing near the back of the room when three protesters stood up in rapid succession: a young man, a young woman and a middle-aged man. The woman held a green banner, Mr. Demir said. Ms. Bodette identified it as the flag of the Women’s Protection Units, or Y.P.J., the female counterpart to the Y.P.G.

The young man was pulled out of the room, Mr. Demir said, and the woman left on her own after being told to do so. But Mr. Demir said he saw security guards push the middle-aged man, who fell to the ground. He did not know whether the guards were part of Mr. Erdogan’s detail, the United States Secret Service or the hotel’s security team.

“The third man screamed, and people were screaming at him,” he said. “It didn’t take long. Seconds, really.”

Mr. Demir said he later saw the man on the floor, handcuffed, outside the ballroom where Mr. Erdogan was speaking at the invitation of the Turkish American National Steering Committee.

Cemil Akgun, 44, a Turkish textile producer who was in New York on a business trip, said Mr. Erdogan appeared unfazed. He resumed speaking less than two minutes later.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Maggie Astor and Nicholas Fandos