Western democracies stunned by images of unrest in Washington

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Democracies around the world expressed horror at the mob storming of the US Capitol, in scenes some feared would empower the nation’s geopolitical rivals.

There was universal condemnation of the violence in Washington on Wednesday night, during the certification of Joe Biden as the next US president, as politicians distanced themselves from Donald Trump.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who formed close ties with the US president on Brexit but has more recently cultivated a cooler relationship, described the scenes on Capitol Hill as “disgraceful”, writing on Twitter that “the United States stands for democracy around the world and it is now vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power”.

Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary, echoed Mr Johnson’s message: “The US rightly takes great pride in its democracy, and there can be no justification for these violent attempts to frustrate the lawful and proper transition of power.”

Brexit party leader Nigel Farage, one of Mr Trump’s most vocal backers and someone who has shared platforms with the US president, said “storming Capitol Hill is wrong. The protesters must leave”.

Other Nato allies breached diplomatic norms by urging action in a domestic political crisis, with Mark Rutte, prime minister of Netherlands, addressing Mr Trump on Twitter directly and calling him to “recognise @JoeBiden as the next president today”.

Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas was similarly direct, saying contempt for democratic institutions had devastating effects and enemies of democracy would be “pleased by these incredible images from Washington DC”.

“From inflammatory words come violent actions — on the steps of the Reichstag and now in the Capitol,” said Mr Maas, an apparent reference to the 1933 Reichstag fire that the Nazi party used as a pretext to seize power in Germany. “Trump and his supporters should finally accept the decision of American voters and stop trampling on democracy.”

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the unrest and said France stood strongly with the American people who wanted to choose their leaders through free and democratic elections. “And we will not yield in any way to the violence of a few individuals who want to challenge that,” he said.

“Since the 18th century, the United States of America and France have shared a commitment to freedom and democracy,” he said from the Elysée Palace, talking of a “common struggle to ensure that our democracies emerge even stronger from this moment that we are all living through”. 

He added in English: “What happened today in Washington DC is not America, definitely. We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy.” 

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, called the riots a “deliberate assault on democracy by a sitting president [and] his supporters”.

One European diplomat said that while he still expected Mr Biden to be inaugurated on January 20, the chaos would undermine US credibility to the benefit of authoritarian leaders such as presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia.

“The real damage is long-term,” the official said. “Internationally, Putin and Xi are laughing all the way to the bank.”

Over the course of his four-year term, Mr Trump has lavished praise on authoritarian leaders, among them Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But even Mr Erdogan appeared to distance himself from Mr Trump on Wednesday, saying he was “following with concern” the upheaval in Washington.

Other close US allies refrained from assigning blame but expressed unease about the developments. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said his fellow citizens were “disturbed and saddened by the attack on democracy in the United States, our closest ally and neighbour”.

“Violence will never succeed in overruling the will of the people. Democracy in the US must be upheld — and it will be,” Mr Trudeau wrote on Twitter.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of the 30-country Nato military alliance, which is underpinned by US power, condemned the “shocking scenes in Washington DC”.

“The outcome of this democratic election must be respected,” he wrote on Twitter.

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s prime minister, also expressed anxiety about the turmoil. “The Irish people have a deep connection with the United States of America, built up over many generations,” he wrote on Twitter. “I know that many, like me, will be watching the scenes unfolding in Washington DC with great concern and dismay.”

UK opposition leader Keir Starmer called the events “horrendous”. “These are not ‘protesters’ — this a direct attack on democracy and legislators carrying out the will of the American people,” said the Labour party leader.

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