EU accuses Belarus of ‘gangster’ antics as migrants shiver at Polish border

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Hundreds of migrants shivered in freezing temperatures and huddled round campfires on the Belarusian border with Poland on Tuesday in front of razor wire fences and lines of Polish border guards blocking their entry into the European Union.

The EU promised more sanctions on Belarus and accused President Alexander Lukashenko’s government of using the migrants as political pawns and putting lives at risk, in what it branded “gangster-style” behaviour.

Polish authorities were braced for further clashes after some migrants used logs, spades and other implements on Monday to try to break down a border fence, escalating a months-long crisis in which at least seven migrants have died.

Poland and other EU member states accuse Belarus of encouraging illegal migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa to cross the border into the EU in revenge for sanctions already slapped on Minsk over human rights abuses.

“The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unparalleled manner,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told a news conference in Warsaw.

“We currently have a camp of migrants who are blocked from the Belarusian side. There are about 1,000 people there, mostly young men. These are aggressive actions that we must repel, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the European Union.”

Lukashenko’s government, which is backed by Russia, denies engineering the migrant crisis and blames Europe and the United States for the plight of the people stranded at the border.

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation by phone and expressed concern over the build-up of Polish troops at the border, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on Tuesday.

“To conduct a war with these unfortunate people on the border of Poland with Belarus and move forward columns of tanks – it’s clear this is either a training exercise or it’s blackmail,” Lukashenko said in later televised comments.

“We will calmly stand up to this,” he added.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested the EU provide Belarus with financial assistance to stop the migrant flows, referencing an earlier deal with Turkey.

The European Commission said Belarus was illegally offering migrants easy entrance into the EU via its territory.

via Reuters

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