Poland turns water cannon against migrants throwing stones at Belarusian border
WARSAW, Nov. 16 (Reuters) – Polish security forces shot water cannons at migrants who threw stones across the Belarusian border, where thousands gathered in a chaotic attempt to reach the European Union, showed video footage shared by authorities on Tuesday.
The crisis has led the EU to prepare new sanctions against Belarus, which it accuses of trying to destabilize the bloc by illegally pushing migrants across the border.
Images shared by a spokesperson for the Polish government and the Defense Ministry showed a further escalation of the border crisis, where migrants gathered in increasing numbers on the Belarusian side last week.
“Watch out, watch out, if you don’t follow the orders, force will be used against you,” said a loudspeaker message to migrants throwing objects, according to images which aired on public broadcaster TVP.
The migrants threw bottles and wooden logs at Polish soldiers and used sticks in an attempt to break through the fence, the video showed.
The Home Office said a policeman was seriously injured by an object thrown across the border and was in hospital with a suspected fractured skull.
The Polish Defense Ministry said in a tweet that Belarusian authorities gave migrants sound grenades to throw at Polish soldiers and border guards.
The EU says Belarus is encouraging migrants to cross the border in revenge for earlier sanctions against the crackdown on last year’s protests against the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was deeply concerned about how Belarus was endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants.
Belarus, a close ally of Russia, said claims it fueled the border crisis were “absurd.” Lukashenko met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, Belarusian news agency BELTA reported.
Polish authorities said they were informed of a phone call Monday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lukashenko, as they discussed aid to migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border.
The Polish government spokesperson said the government was discussing whether to launch formal consultations on the crisis with NATO allies.
“We are preparing for a pessimistic outcome – that this conflict could last for months,” spokesman Piotr Muller said at a press conference.
According to the Polish authorities, more than 20,000 members of the police, border guards and the army are reinforcing the border where migrants have gathered near the Polish town of Kuznica.
An estimated 4,000 migrants are at the border and many say Belarusian authorities will not allow them to return to Minsk.
The leader of Poland’s ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski said his country was facing a Hybrid War.
“We have a hybrid war, but a real war, with weapons, is not on the horizon. We are facing an unpredictable enemy,” Kaczynski told Polish public radio.
Iraq has meanwhile scheduled an evacuation flight from Minsk on Thursday. So far, around 150-200 Iraqis already in Minsk have registered to return home.
Other Iraqis at the border struggled to register. “We are working on this with the Belarusian authorities,” said Iraqi consul for Russia and Belarus, Majid al-Kinani.
“The number fluctuates, as people are stranded at the Belarusian border with Poland or Lithuania and so far they have not been allowed to return to Minsk by Belarusian authorities,” said the consul.
In Lithuania, authorities said they had arrested 47 people who tried to approach the border.
Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Charlotte Bruneau in Baghdad; Editing by Catherine Evans and Giles Elgood
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