LONDON – “Disgraceful,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “Terribly distressing,” was Australia leader Scott Morrison’s reaction. The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. advised Beijing’s nationals to “exercise caution before going to public places.”
After a day of drama and violence in Washington where hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol building, world leaders and top diplomats greeted Wednesday’s mayhem with a mixture of strong condemnations, shock and outright disbelief that a country long relied upon for its global leadership and democratic ideals had descended into unprecedented political chaos.
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“When in one of the world’s oldest democracies supporters of an outgoing president take up arms to challenge the legitimate results of an election, a universal idea – that of ‘one person, one vote’ – is undermined,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a video message released on Twitter on Thursday morning. “What happened in Washington, D.C., is not American – definitely. We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that “violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the U.S. must be upheld – and it will be.”
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Many international figures appeared to point the finger at Trump, whose repeated false assertions of a stolen U.S. presidential election inspired the mass gathering that led to clashes with police, forced a lockdown inside the Capitol building and has resulted in at least four deaths. There have been more than 60 arrests.
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“Trump and his supporters should finally accept the decision of the American voters and stop trampling on democracy,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter on Wednesday night, as events unfolded. “From inflammatory words come violent deeds.” Mass added that “contempt for democratic institutions has disastrous effects.”
Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to Britain, noted on Twitter that “after our catastrophic failure in the 20th century we Germans were taught by the U.S. to develop strong democratic institutions. We also learnt democracy is not just about institutions. It is about political culture, too. All democratic nations need to constantly defend it.”
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg wrote on the social media platform that “what we are now seeing from Washington is a completely unacceptable attack on democracy in the United States. President Trump is responsible for stopping this.”
“The beauty of democracy?” with a shrug emoji was the reaction tweeted by Bashir Ahmad, a personal assistant to the president of Nigeria, which has seen several coups since independence – including one led decades ago by President Muhammadu Buhari, who most recently entered Nigeria’s highest office via a democratic vote.
Trump’s words “directly led” to violence, said Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel on Thursday. “These are not ‘protestors’ – this a direct attack on democracy and legislators carrying out the will of the American people,” British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer tweeted about the “horrendous” scenes in Washington.
After pro-Trump supporters breached the Capitol building, interrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory, photographers captured disturbing scenes of people walking around the nation’s political halls of power taking pictures and brazenly vandalizing offices. Both chambers of Congress were forced into recess and lawmakers and their aides hid under tables and sheltered in basements. In one image, Capitol Police officers could be seen standing near a barricaded door with guns drawn. One man was captured hanging from the balcony in the Senate chamber.
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Congress formally confirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s election win on Thursday after reconvening to count the Electoral College votes through the night. The chaotic day that preceded it came in the final days of the Trump presidency. Trump is due to leave office on Jan. 20 and early Thursday he vowed an orderly transition of power. The affirmation of Biden’s victory followed efforts by some GOP lawmakers to object to the result.
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Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Colombian President Iván Duque were among those in Latin America who denounced the rioters, but both also said they were confident American democracy and the rule of law would prevail.
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A Capitol police officer looks out of a broken window as protesters gather on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis, Getty Images)
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“In this sad episode in the U.S., supporters of fascism showed their real face: anti-democratic and aggressive,″ tweeted Luis Roberto Barroso, Brazilian Supreme Court justice and the head of the country’s electoral court. He said he hoped “American society and institutions react with vigor to this threat to democracy.″
Venezuela said the events in Washington show that the U.S. “is suffering what it has generated in other countries with its politics of aggression.” Venezuela has undergone numerous U.S.-backed opposition efforts attempting to oust President Nicolás Maduro.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast by state television Thursday that the chaos unleashed on the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s supporters “exposed the fragility and vulnerability” of Western democracy.
Traditional American adversaries such as Iran have for years complained of alleged U.S. political adventurism abroad while ignoring America’s own democratic deficits in areas such as access to health care, poverty, racism and other social inequalities.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry in Beijing said there was a “sharp contrast” in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s reactions to Hong Kong democracy protesters in 2019 when she described their activities as a “beautiful sight to behold” and the reactions of “some people in the U.S., including the media,” to events in the Capitol.
“It makes one ponder, and deserves serious and profound reflection,” said Hua Chunying, speaking to reporters in Beijing on Thursday.
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Police rest after protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC as the U.S. Congress meets to formally ratify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 Presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY)
The storming of the U.S. Capitol came one day after Hong Kong authorities arrested 53 pro-democracy activists, accusing them of subversion over allegations they sought to elect lawmakers who would hamstring the Legislative Council’s work and force the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong said America’s reputation and democracy were damaged by Wednesday’s violence.
“It’s very sad for us in Hong Kong to see mobs attacking Capitol Hill and trying to overthrow the election results. We in Hong Kong are fighting for a democracy in which everyone has a right to vote,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, a pro-democracy activist and one of the organizers of an annual vigil commemorating the bloody crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. “But when we look at the U.S., it’s now a subversion of the will of the people by violence.”
In Russia, the state-run news outlet RT published an editorial opinion piece suggesting Washington was getting what it deserves as a result of its foreign policy.
“Do you realize now what you have done? U.S. gets the kind of ‘democracy’ it championed overseas,” the op-ed’s headline read.
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Some NATO allies also warned citizens to be wary of potential further violence.
“We believe that the USA will overcome this domestic political crisis in maturity. We recommend that our citizens in the USA stay away from crowded places and places where shows are held,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Turkey is a politically volatile nation that saw the bloodiest coup attempt in its modern political history in 2016 when a section of the Turkish military launched coordinated operations in several major cities to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The coup failed, and Erdoğan has tightened his grip on power.
Several of Washington’s foreign embassies also issued warnings to their citizens who are in the country’s capital to stay home, including in Turkey, Bulgaria and Saudi Arabia.
European Parliament President David Sassoli, who leads one of the largest legislatures in the world, also denounced the scenes at the Capitol. The European Union has spent four cantankerous years dealing with the Trump administration, and its top officials have repeatedly said they are looking forward to a better relationship under Biden.
“This is insurrection. Nothing less. In Washington,” tweeted Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden who has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration.
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Italians watched the events with shock, having always considered the U.S. to be the model of democracy and the country that rescued Italy after its fascist descent during World War II. But to some, Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol was inevitable.
“This is the widely anticipated outcome of Trumpism,” tweeted a retired Italian center-left politician, Pierluigi Castagnetti. “And unfortunately it won’t end today. When politics is replaced by deception and fanaticism of the people the drift is inevitable.”
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There were also concerns about what the shocking scenes of the riots beamed around the world could mean for the U.S.’s traditional role as a model for democracies.
“Authoritarian states will broadcast these images for years to come, every time an American leader comments on elections and democracy in other countries around the world,” said Negar Mortazavi, a political analyst and columnist who covers Iran.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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