U.S. President Donald Trump praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a friend who gets “high marks” for “running a very difficult part of the world.”
Trump’s effusive praise for the Turkish leader came on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday despite tensions between the two countries over the conduct of Turkish security officials toward American protesters.
Hours before Trump met Erdogan for talks, Erdogan supporters punched and kicked three protesters who interrupted his speech at a New York hotel.
Erdogan was addressing several hundred people at an event organized by a business group, the Turkish-American National Steering Committee, when one man stood and began shouting, “Terrorist! Terrorist!”
Voice of America TV footage shows audience members pummeling him as U.S. security officers tried to hustle him to safety. Soon after he was gone, a second man followed suit and also was repeatedly punched and hit over the head with Turkish flags as he was led outside by U.S. security.
Erdogan tried to calm the crowd, saying: “Let’s not sacrifice the whole meeting for a couple of terrorists.”
Then a third protester started heckling the president from a different part of the crowd. Although that incident occurred off-camera, a VOA reporter who was nearby said he, too, was beaten.
This was the second time this year that protesters in America have been assaulted by Erdogan supporters.
In past months, 21 people — many of whom were members of the Turkish ambassador’s security detail — were indicted for allegedly attacking protesters outside the Turkish embassy in Washington in May. All were charged with conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, a felony punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. Several face additional charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
WATCH: Erdogan Watched Violent Clash Near Embassy in May
The brawl erupted outside the residence of Turkey’s ambassador to Washington shortly after Trump met with Erdogan at the White House. Video of the protest recorded by VOA’s Turkish service, showing what appear to be security guards and some Erdogan supporters attacking a small group of demonstrators, went viral.
Erdogan said in a PBS interview that he was “very sorry” for the violence in May. Erdogan also claimed U.S. President Donald Trump called him a week ago about what happened in May to say he, too, was sorry, and that “he was going to follow up about this issue when [Erdogan and his people] come to the United States within the framework of an official visit.”
The White House has since strongly denied Erdogan’s account of the phone conversation with Trump.
On Thursday, during his appearance with Erdogan, Trump was asked about the conversation with the Turkish leader regarding the violence against peaceful protesters. Trump did not respond.
VOA’s Turkish service, Peter Heinlein and Paul Alexander contributed to this report.