The world watched with dismay as a surreal scene at the U.S. Capitol, like little else seen in its history, unfolded on Wednesday. Protestors 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 presidential election victory. Shortly before the breach, Vice President Mike Pence had announced he would not reject the election results, as Trump had urged.
Many foreign observers, already glued to news of the final chapters of the election saga, reacted with alarm and even grief, especially in allied countries that have looked to U.S. democracy for inspiration.
“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. The disdain for democratic institutions is devastating,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted, referring to far-right protestors who rushed the historic Parliament building in August.
“The United States Congress has been the symbol of freedom and democracy around the world for centuries,” wrote 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.”
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 he was 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.
One senior European diplomat compared the images to Kyrgyzstan, where protesters stormed the nation’s parliament in Bishkek in October. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to speak frankly about violence in an allied country.
“Terrifying what is happening in the Capitol now,” tweeted Dutch lawmaker Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma, who also serves as foreign policy spokesman for the Dutch political party Democrats 66.
Brendan Howlin, an Irish lawmaker, tweeted that the “shocking scenes” signaled the “inevitable final phase of Trumpism.” Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, called scene from the Capitol “utterly horrifying” and called for “solidarity with those … on the side of democracy and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power.”
“We invite all parties in the U.S.A. to show restraint and common sense,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
Some foreign outlets, including the BBC and Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald, maintained live coverage of events as they unfolded at the Capitol on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, results are still trickling in from an exceedingly close race for two Senate seats in Georgia that could tip Senate control into Democrats’ hands – which would hand the party both the White House and Congress. Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock has already been declared winner in his race and the other Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, maintains a narrow lead as of Wednesday morning.
“How I would like to be a voter of the #DekalbCounty in #Georgia! And vote #Ossoff,” former Italian prime minister Enrico Letta tweeted, referring to a Georgia county with a large number of Democratic voters.
“U. S. and international politics over the next few years will depend on his victory,” he wrote. “Those votes will affect us too.”
He later celebrated Warnock’s win and Ossoff’s lead.
Letta has been a vocal critic of Trump’s handling of the election. When Trump tweeted “STOP THE COUNT” the day after polls closed in November, Letta responded, “IT’S CALLED DEMOCRACY!”
European newspapers homed in on the awkwardness of Pence’s role in Wednesday’s proceedings, noting that Pence – who has stood loyally by Trump throughout a tumultuous term in the White House – faces an uncomfortable conundrum as Trump now pressures him publicly to reject the results of the November vote.
“Today, Pence has to decide between Trump and the country,” German tabloid Bild headlined an article about Wednesday’s congressional session.
“U. S. Vice President Pence (61) was considered to be Trump’s most loyal ally – that could change in the next few hours, because today, he has to announce that Joe Biden will be the next president,” the article read.
French daily newspaper Le Monde described Pence’s task Wednesday as a “cornelian” dilemma. “Will he defy the president or the Constitution of the United States?” the article pondered.
In a separate opinion article, a Le Monde columnist wrote that Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat signals “the fragility of the American system.”
“What happened over the last four years in the United States is serious – we knew that,” the columnist wrote. “What’s happened in the last two months is even more so.”
“In Washington, a political Wednesday under high tension,” read a headline on the developments in a left-wing French newspaper.
“It’s their own D-Day,” the article proclaimed, noting that thousands of Trump’s supporters are gathered in D.C. on Wednesday to protest the election results and that there are worries violence could break out. Both police and the National Guard are being deployed to handle the crowds and Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked residents to avoid areas of downtown where people are expected to gather, citing concerns of violence.
In Israel, commentators chalked up the seeming sweep as a victory for liberal American Jews who saw Ossoff, who is Jewish, campaigning with Warnock, who is Black, as a modern-day parallel to the historic civil rights alliance between the two communities.
But many saw it as another blow to their own embattled leader.
“One Jewish politician who should be counted among the losers of this election, assuming the current results hold, is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” wrote political analyst Amir Tibon in the daily Haaretz. “The projected Republican losses will make it much harder for Netanyahu to pit one branch of the U.S. government against the other, as he had done before during the Obama and Clinton administrations.”
“He would have to say goodbye to his longed-for consolation prize – a Republican Senate that could work with him against Biden’s foreign policy,” Tibon wrote.
The Washington Post’s Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem, Chico Harlan in Rome, Rick Noack in Paris, Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, and Adam Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.