Poland uses water cannons and tear gas as tension rises on Belarusian border

WARSAW – Polish authorities said border guards on Tuesday used water cannons and tear gas to push back what they called an attempt by mi...


WARSAW – Polish authorities said border guards on Tuesday used water cannons and tear gas to push back what they called an attempt by migrants moving en masse from Belarus to cross the heavily guarded border.

Tensions have been building up along the European Union’s eastern front for weeks as thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, flew to Belarus in the hope of finding a path to the bloc. EU member states that share a border with Belarus – Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – have accused the government of Alexander G. Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader, to orchestrate what they call a “hybrid attack” using human beings as weapons.

After several nights of tense clashes, tensions erupted on Tuesday morning.

Polish authorities, in a series of messages on Twitter, said border guards at the Kuznica-Bruzgi crossing point were assaulted by people throwing “stones, bottles and logs” and firing “stun grenades” .

“All aggressive behavior is coordinated by Belarusian services and monitored by drones,” Polish authorities said, posting videos of the clashes. “Following an attack by people inspired by the Belarusian side, one of the policemen was seriously injured.

The officer was being treated in a hospital for what was believed to be a fractured skull, authorities said.

Since the Polish government banned journalists from covering the border, it has been impossible to verify the authorities’ claims or the veracity of the dozens of videos posted on social media claiming to show clips of the confrontation.

The Lukashenko government has denied allegations, including from the United States, that it organized the crisis and led the migrant movement.

“We cannot let this so-called problem lead to a heated confrontation,” Lukashenko said at a government meeting on Tuesday, according to Belta, the state news agency.

“The main thing now is to protect our country and our people, and not to allow clashes,” he added.

The number of migrants at the border started to increase after Belarus eased visa rules in August. Western leaders say Lukashenko – who is facing EU sanctions for its brutal crackdown on political opposition and forcibly stopping a Ryanair flight over Belarus to arrest a dissident journalist – using migrants to gain influence on the bloc.

Since the 2015 migration crisis, when more than a million migrants and asylum seekers tried to enter the European Union, the bloc tightened border controls and declared that uncontrolled migration is no longer possible.

But the question remains potentially explosive, and the Polish nationalist government, which regularly loses its support in the polls, has decided to seize the moment.

Poland’s main central banker Adam Glapinski – a longtime friend and ally of Poland’s de facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski – announced this week that the National Bank of Poland will issue a banknote and a collector’s coin dedicated to the “defense of the eastern Polish border”.

Mr Kaczynski recently announced a meeting in Warsaw next month for like-minded right-wing leaders – including Victor Orban of Hungary and Matteo Salvini of Italy – to discuss the future of the European Union and the need to put more emphasis on national sovereignty and “traditional values.”

The border crisis comes as relations between Brussels and Warsaw have deteriorated, with the European Union accuse the Polish government to undermine the rule of law and dismantle the independence of the judiciary.

But as the migrant crisis worsened, the bloc has gave full support to Poland and the other nations on its eastern border.

With Russia supporting Belarus, the humanitarian crisis unfolding at the border threatens to escalate into a wider regional conflagration. And as colder temperatures begin to take hold of the region, it is feared new tragedy among migrants, with thousands of men, women and children stranded in freezing conditions between a razor’s edge and border guards.

Anatol Magdziarz contributed to the Warsaw reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Poland uses water cannons and tear gas as tension rises on Belarusian border
Poland uses water cannons and tear gas as tension rises on Belarusian border
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