At least nine people were injured Sunday morning after major clashes in front of the Turkish Embassy where votes are being cast in that country’s general election.
The Metropolitan Police Department said the confrontations occurred between Turkish people and ethnic Kurds who had gathered at the embassy, in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, ahead of the Nov. 1 poll.
More than 600 Turkish nationals, including the country’s ethnic minorities, were at the embassy, police said.
Voting for Turkish nationals living in Japan started at 9 a.m. at the embassy.
The scuffling started at around 6:50 a.m. and continued on and off until around 11 a.m., with the MPD mobilizing an anti-riot squad to the scene.
Footage showed police forcibly interrupting a scuffle between Turks and Kurds in front of the embassy.
The exact cause of the skirmish is under investigation, the police said. They said two MPD members sustained light injuries in the head.
“I was attacked by Turks all of a sudden while I was in a car with my friends,” a Kurdish man whose shirt had been torn off told broadcaster TBS in front of the embassy, which was heavily guarded by police.
It is understood no Japanese were among the injured.
NHK quoted a Kurdish man who saw the clashes as saying about 10 young men including Turks and Kurds were already fighting each other in a parking lot at around 6 a.m. NHK also quoted a Turkish man who witnessed the fight around the same time as saying Kurds escalated the fight by shouting profanities at the Turks.
An embassy employee told Kyodo News he had “no idea why this happened.”
Other pieces of information suggest that the scuffle was started by some people who waved flags of various extremist organizations in Turkey.
A 62-year-old Japanese man living in the neighborhood said he saw a large crowd in front of the embassy at 7 a.m., with many people shouting and excited.
A toy store near the embassy was temporarily closed due to safety concerns for children.
Some 3,600 Turkish nationals are currently resident in Japan, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The election comes at a time of escalating violence in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast despite a 2013 cease-fire, for now killing off hopes of ending a three-decade insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the poll after his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its governing majority for the first time in June 7 elections, forcing it into coalition talks that ended in failure.
The AKP won three decisive general election victories in 2002, 2007 and 2011 but was stripped of its overall majority this year after losing support to a pro-Kurdish party.
The result wrecked Erdogan’s dreams of creating a powerful US-style presidency with full executive powers.