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Ryan Bakken, Forum News Service, Published June 12 2013

ND lawmakers see Turkish rage over three-day stretch during trip

GRAND FORKS – Halfway across the globe on a goodwill trip, four local legislators found themselves in the middle of the protests in Turkey.

They witnessed the escalation of the protests over a three-day stretch that ended June 2. By the last day, some were unnerved.

“You never know what the mob mentality will do,” said Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks.

Mock was one of seven legislators from North Dakota and 230 in the United States on the trip, which was sponsored by groups in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Others from the northeastern corner on the trip were Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks; Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks; and Sen. Phil Murphy, D-Portland.

On their first day in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, they witnessed tear gas and water cannons being used to disperse anti-government protesters. On their second day, protests escalated, but they were peaceful and the North Dakotans felt safe because no anti-American sentiment was expressed.

But on the third day, while in Izmir, Turkey, the anxiety level heightened on a bus trip to dinner.

“Protesters stopped the bus,” Murphy said. “Some had masks on and others had rubber mallets that pounded the bus. They rocked the bus some. Everyone on the bus had to have been alarmed, some more than others.”

Mock said the protesters may not have been anti-American, but they became increasingly more angry and aggressive.

“When we encountered them looking us in the eye, yelling at us, trying to climb into the bus and rocking the bus, there was uncertainty and anxiety,” Mock said. “Another big factor was that we didn’t know what they were yelling.”

Holmberg said he was less worried about being in the middle of a protest.

“They did not appear violent to me,” he said. “And one of the motivators for protesting was that the new government closed the bars at 10 o’clock.”

The group returned to North Dakota on June 6, relieved.

“Our tour drivers said they’d never seen anything like it,” Murphy said. “They said it was the strongest public protests in decades.”