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WASHINGTON - The world watched with dismay as a surreal scene at the U.S. Capitol, like little seen in its history, unfolded Wednesday.
Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump burst through police barricades and mobbed the building, disrupting at the eleventh hour a vote to formalize Joe Biden's election victory.
Many foreign observers, already glued to news of the final chapters of the election saga, reacted with alarm and grief, especially in allied countries that have looked to U.S. democracy for inspiration.
'The United States Congress has been the symbol of freedom and democracy around the world for centuries,” tweeted Armin Laschet, the leader of Germany's most populous federal state. 'The attacks on the Capitol by fanatical Trump supporters hurt every friend of the United States.”
Across much of Europe, top officials echoed these sentiments. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the scenes of chaos 'disgraceful.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canada's News 1130 radio station in Vancouver that his government is concerned and 'following the situation minute by minute.”
'I think the American democratic institutions are strong, and hopefully everything will return to normal shortly,” he said.
The surge of reactions from allies and foreign observers illustrated one of the Trump era's key consequences, which has become more apparent as it winds to a chaotic close: The beleaguered but persistent role of the United States as a model for democratic norms and institutions has been severely tarnished in the eyes of allies.
In the view of the world, the Trump era has provided no shortage of captivating spectacle, sometimes grim. Wednesday's events went beyond that, into disconcerting territory: far-right attacks on democracy made literal.
The turmoil also gave an opening to countries with poor track records on human rights and democracy to lecture a superpower.
Turkey, a NATO ally that has been widely condemned for jailing thousands of critics, academics, journalists and artists and has seen its partnership with the United States deteriorate in recent years, called on 'all parties in the U.S.A. to show restraint and common sense,” in a statement released by its foreign ministry.
In Venezuela - which has been embroiled in its own political and social crisis for years - Jorge Arreaza, foreign minister of authoritarian leader President Nicolas Maduro, issued a statement condemning 'the political polarization and the spiral of violence that reflects the profound political and social crisis the United States is currently experiencing.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, described the situation as 'utterly horrifying” and called for 'solidarity with those ... on the side of democracy and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power.”
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin tweeted that the people of Ireland have a 'deep connection with the United States” and that 'many, like me, will be watching the scenes unfolding in Washington DC with great concern and dismay.”
'Enemies of democracy will be happy to see these unbelievable pictures from #WashingtonDC. Riotous words turn into violent acts - on the steps of the Reichstag, and now in the #Capitol,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted, referring to far-right protesters who rushed the historic Parliament there in August. 'The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating.”