Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail got into a violent brawl on Friday with U.N. security guards outside the General Assembly hall, leaving at least two U.N. personnel injured, including one who was taken to the hospital, possibly with broken ribs, according to U.N. diplomats and officials.
The altercation occurred as Erdogan, who was at a meeting on a floor above the U.N. General Assembly entrance, learned that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was about to begin his historic speech announcing his bid to become a U.N. member state.
The Turkish leader tried to rush to get into the U.N. chamber to take his seat.
Erdogan and his entourage, however, were stopped at an exit near the meeting room and told they could not enter the hall from that exit. The Turkish guards demanded that their prime minister be allowed to pass, and allegedly pushed the U.N. security guards. The U.N. guards pushed back, and the Turks apparently began swinging. One diplomat who was working on the floor two stories below said he could hear the fighting.
Within minutes, U.N. police radioed for help, sending reinforcements rushing to the scene from outside the General Assembly and from the U.N. Security Council, where police radios blared "security breach, security breach," according to a diplomat.
The U.N., meanwhile, sealed off the entrance to the U.N. General Assembly hall, according to another diplomat who had just left the building when the fight broke out. They also evacuated a working area just outside the General Assembly chamber, forcing diplomats out into the pouring rain, according to diplomats.
It remained unclear whether Erdogan ever made it to Abbas's speech. But the two leaders met shortly after the speech for a bilateral meeting on Palestinian-Turkish relations. During the meeting, tensions flared up again after a member of the Turkish delegation spotted a top U.N. security official. There are sharply differing accounts of what happened then, with one official saying that fighting broke out again, and another saying that it stopped at raised voices.
The U.N. is seeking to prevent the incident, first reported by Inner City Press, from developing into a major international dispute, and is expected to issue a statement that will try to put the matter behind them.
Update: More details on the brawl here.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.