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Lukashenko lashes EU for not bargaining over trafficked migrants

Merkel, meanwhile, spoke on the phone with Belarusian opposition leader in exile Svetlana Tikhanouskaya about the political crisis in Belarus and the “difficult situation” on the border.

Poland is pushing the migrants back, saying it’s protecting the border for all of Europe. It has received strong declarations of support from the EU, NATO and the US.

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A video posted Monday on Twitter by the spokesman for Poland’s security forces, Stanislaw Zaryn, shows Russian lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, on the Belarus side of the border, shouting sarcastic comments in Russian at Polish border guards.

“Catholics, where is your love for your neighbours? Your faith means less to you than your pay and the instructions from Brussels,” Milonov, a member of Russia’s ruling United Russia party, shouted across the closed checkpoint of Bruzgi-Kuznica.

Poland is a predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The International Rescue Committee said 13 migrants have died in the forests on both sides of the border. Others have abandoned hopes of reaching Europe and were flown back to the Middle East.

Humanitarian groups and the Catholic Church have been pressing to be allowed to bring aid to the stranded migrants.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.Credit:AP

Lukashenko on Monday shot back at Polish authorities, accusing them of “trying to solve their internal and external problems by putting pressure on Belarus and casting it as a culprit for Poland’s problems.”

He insisted the migrants have been heading west to reach relatives in Germany.

“We haven’t been shuttling anyone across the border,” he said. “Those people are heading there on their own. We don’t want any confrontation … but we will protect those hapless folks as much as we can.”

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Poland’s Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said there were over 300 attempts by migrants Sunday to get through the razor wire border fence into the EU. She said most were prevented while about 60 who got through were turned back. In one case, around 150 “aggressive foreigners” tried to cross, aided by Belarus forces who used laser pointers and spotlights to blind Polish border guards, she said.

She said Poland is planning return flights for hundreds of Iraqis now in the country’s guarded migrant centres.

Of about 1900 migrants in those centres, more than 1200 are Iraqis, she said. About 700 have applied for international protection and are waiting for a decision on whether they will be able to stay in the EU. Poland would like to fly the others back.

Michalska said Poland is seeking permission from Baghdad to fly the first group of about 80 Iraqis in the coming days on a chartered flight.

“We are working with the Iraqi side that needs to agree to receive its citizens back,” Michalska said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked on the phone with Belarusian opposition leader in exile Svetlana Tikhanouskaya about the crisis within Belarus and the border with the European Union, a government spokesperson said on Monday.

“The Chancellor underlined the continued support of the Federal Government for the Belarusian democracy movement and stressed that the political leadership of the country must end the repression against the opposition and independent journalists, release prisoners and enter into a serious dialogue with society in order to resolve the crisis through fair and free elections,” spokesperson Steffen Seibert said.

Belarusian strongman Lukashenko claimed a resounding victory in last year’s presidential election despite the widely held view that the vote was fraudulent. Various opposition groups say Tikhanouskaya won.

The resulting crackdown has involved hundreds thrown in prison and there have been allegations that opposition activists were tortured. It also spurred a lively opposition movement in countries like Latvia, Lithuania and Germany where many Belarusians live.

AP, Reuters

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