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Washington mob chaos leaves image of ‘exceptional’ US in tatters

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Washington chaos leaves image of 'exceptional' US in tatters as global leaders express shock and dismay

WASHINGTON The storming of the US Congress on Wednesday left America's image as a beacon of democracy severely tarnished, with allies unable to hide their shock and authoritarian regimes gleefully exploiting the unrest.

In normal times, a state-backed gang rampaging through a legislature to demand a lost election be nullified would have US diplomats marching to their laptops to draft a statement of condemnation. But after the deadly violence in Washington, it was the turn of officials in capitals from Bogota to New Delhi to call for calm.

World leaders could barely contain their shock at seeing US President Donald Trump's supporters briefly - but quite easily - overrun the crucible of US democracy and challenge the peaceful transfer of power.

"Where were the police and the Senate bodyguards...?" Czech Republic Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek asked aloud, as the world watched Trump supporters cart off podiums, ransack offices or strut around Congress in a horned helmet unmolested.

Through slavery and the Cold War, US presidents have often hailed their democracy as exceptional, what former president Ronald Reagan called the "shining city on the hill". That image has been questioned before, but after four norm-shattering years of Mr Trump, it took just a few hours of mob rule to make America look pretty ordinary, and as fragile as anywhere else.

Former president Barack Obama's top security aide Ben Rhodes said: "Americans should not have any illusions: Today's images, like the Trump presidency, will permanently alter how the United States is viewed around the world.

"Tragically, this debasement of democracy comes at a time when authoritarian nationalism is ascendant on every continent."

The moment was not lost on such regimes, some of which issued wry statements mimicking the criticism they normally received from Washington.

Venezuela Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza called for the country to follow a new path of "stability and social justice".

China's Global Times - a day after a crackdown on Hong Kong's besieged democracy movement - crowed that "bubbles of 'democracy and freedom' have burst".

Mr Mike Gallagher, a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin, lamented: "If we don't think other countries are watching this happen right now, if we don't think the Chinese Communist Party is sitting back and laughing, then we're deluding ourselves." - AFP