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Polish police fire teargas at people trying to cross from Belarus

Polish riot police on the country’s border with Belarus have fired water cannon and teargas at people forcibly attempting to cross into the European Union.

The clashes come a day after EU governments approved sanctions against the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, for allegedly engineering the crisis by allowing thousands of asylum-seekers from the Middle East to travel through Belarus to the border with Poland.

Televised footage from the border on Tuesday morning showed dozens of men throwing rocks and approaching a fence near the border crossing at the Polish town of Kuźnica.

Polish border guards responded by firing water cannon and teargas at them. Russian state media also posted video showing stun grenades detonating near migrants on the Belarusian side of the border. Poland has claimed that the stun grenades were provided by Belarus.

Poland’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that it had “repelled an attack” at the border. “Attack by migrants at the border crossing in Kuźnica,” the defence ministry wrote. “The migrants are very aggressive, they throw stones at Polish officers and soldiers.”

Poland and Lithuania have declared states of emergency that give police sweeping new powers to summarily expel migrants and ignore requests for asylum. NGOs have complained that Polish authorities have refused to allow aid for migrants into the border area and journalists have been prevented from reporting close to the border.

By contrast, the clashes at the border on Tuesday were covered live by state television in Belarus, where Lukashenko has sought to put blame for the border crisis on European governments. Belarusian troops have been accused of cutting through border fencing and pushing migrants into making dangerous attempts to cross the border.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers, mainly from Iraq and Syria, had moved from an improvised campsite in the woods to the Kuźnica border crossing on Monday accompanied by Belarusian border guards.

They were allowed through Belarusian border checkpoints but were denied entry into Poland.

Video footage on Monday evening had showed Polish and Belarusian soldiers in a tense standoff after an attempted breach of the border fencing. One woman who appeared to have become trapped in razor wire screamed in the footage as a voice off-camera warned her not to move or she may injure herself further.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, spoke to Lukashenko by telephone on Monday evening about “the need for humanitarian aid for refugees and migrants”. Russia has sought to establish direct contacts between Lukashenko and European governments, many of which have condemned him for his brutal crackdown on opposition.

On Tuesday, Germany announced it had temporarily suspended the certification process for the new Russian Nordstream 2 pipeline. While the process was officially suspended over a technical issue, it comes as tensions between Russia and the west have skyrocketed over the migrant crisis and a Russian troop buildup near the borders of Ukraine.


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