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Poland blames Belarus as migrants try to force their way across border

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November 8, 2021

By Matthias Williams and Joanna Plucinska

KYIV (Reuters) -Poland accused Belarus of trying to spark a major confrontation on Monday as video clips showed hundreds of migrants walking towards the Polish border and some trying to breach the fence using spades and other implements.

Warsaw said it had deployed additional soldiers, border guards and police, while neighbouring Lithuania said it might introduce a state of emergency on its border with Belarus.

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The European Union, to which Poland and Lithuania both belong, accuses Minsk of encouraging migrants from the Middle East and Africa to cross into the EU via Belarus, as a form of hybrid warfare in revenge for Western sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko’s government over human rights abuses.

Poland said it had withstood the first attempts on Monday by the migrants to force their way across the border.

A video distributed by Polish authorities showed one man cutting part of a barbed wire fence, another attacking the fence with a spade, while a Polish soldier sprayed an unidentified substance from a can.

In an earlier video, shared by the Belarusian blogging service NEXTA, migrants carrying rucksacks and wearing winter clothing were seen walking on the side of a highway. Other videos showed large groups of migrants sitting by the road and being escorted by armed men dressed in khaki.

“Belarus wants to cause a major incident, preferably with shots fired and casualties. According to media reports, they are preparing a major provocation near Kuznica Bialostocka, that there will be an attempt at a mass border crossing,” Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk told Polish public radio.

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Lithuania said it also was moving additional troops to the border to prepare for a possible surge in migrant crossings. Latvia said the situation was “alarming”.

‘INHUMAN ATTITUDE’

Lukashenko’s government has repeatedly denied manufacturing a migrant crisis, blaming the West for the crossings and treatment of migrants.

The Belarusian state border committee confirmed on Monday that many refugees were moving towards the Polish border, but said Warsaw was taking an “inhumane attitude”.

Poland has stationed more than 12,000 troops at the border, its defence minister said, while sharing aerial footage of migrants clustered on the Belarusian side.

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“They throw tree trunks on the fence so as to reduce the height of this fence to breach it,” said Katarzyna Zdanowicz, spokeswoman for Polish border guards in the area.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged a strong response from the EU and United Nations.

“Belarus’ regime escalates the border crisis – migrants are pushed to EU border by armed men,” she tweeted. “The migrant smuggling, violence & ill-treatment must stop.”

The EU, the United States and Britain imposed sanctions on Belarus after Lukashenko unleashed a violent crackdown on mass protests following a disputed election last year.

“Lukashenko’s regime is putting the lives and health of migrants at risk, using them to escalate the border crisis and provoke Poland,” said Bix Aliu, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Warsaw. “Hostile actions by Belarus are exacerbating the situation on the border with the EU and NATO dangerously and must end immediately.”

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Lukashenko has defied opposition calls to resign, buttressed by money and diplomatic support from traditional ally Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday defended Minsk’s handling of the migrant issue, saying Belarus was taking all necessary measures to act legally.

Charities say the migrants face freezing weather conditions and a lack of food and medical attention.

Poland said seven migrants had been found dead on its side of the border, with reports of more deaths in Belarus.

Humanitarian groups accuse Poland’s ruling nationalists of violating the international right to asylum by pushing migrants back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Poland says its actions are legal.

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Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Facebook: “The Polish border is not just a line on a map. The border is sacred – Polish blood has been spilled for it!”.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw; Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Dmitry Antonov in Moscow and Christian Kraemer in Berlin; writing by Matthias Williams, editing by Ed Osmond and Gareth Jones)

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South Korea reports daily record of over 5,000 new COVID-19 infections

Published

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December 1, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea reported a new daily record of 5,123 new coronavirus cases, as it battles to contain a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms and stave off the Omicron https://www.reuters.com/world/global-spread-omicron-cases-associated-travel-curbs-2021-11-29 variant, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Wednesday.

The government on Monday shelved plans to further relax COVID-19 curbs because of the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisations and deaths as well as the possible threat posed by the new variant.

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Hospitals were treating 723 patients with severe COVID-19, a record number, as the authorities scrambled to secure more ICU beds. Severe cases have seen a steep rise compared with just under 400 in early November.

ICU bed capacity in the greater Seoul area stood at 89.2%, Son Young-rae, a senior health official told a briefing.

To ease the strain on hospitals and care centres, South Korea this week began making at-home treatment the default for people with mild infections, with only more severe cases transferred to hospitals. Residential treatment centres will also be expanded.

More than 84% of the severely ill COVID-19 patients were aged 60 and above. Experts had pointed to waning antibody levels from the vaccines and urged the elderly to get booster shots.

Authorities will mobilise the administrative structure to secure hospital beds, at least an additional 1,300 by mid-December, Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol told a COVID-19 response meeting.

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He also called for tighter virus prevention measures to head off Omicron, after suspected cases entered the country from Nigeria.

South Korea has not reported any confirmed Omicron cases so far.

Tuesday’s new cases bring the coronavirus infections in the country to 452,350 cases, with 3,658 deaths. Despite the rising hospitalisation rate, the mortality rate remains relatively low at 0.81%, KDCA data showed.

South Korea has fully vaccinated nearly 80% of its 52 million people, while the boosters for adults aged 18 to 49 only begin this Saturday.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Jacqueline Wong & Shri Navaratnam)

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Former PM Abe says Japan, U.S. could not stand by if China attacked Taiwan

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December 1, 2021

By Ben Blanchard

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Japan and the United States could not stand by if China attacked Taiwan, and Beijing needs to understand this, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday.

Tensions over Chinese-claimed Taiwan have risen as President Xi Jinping seeks to assert his country’s sovereignty claims against the democratically ruled island. Taiwan’s government says it wants peace, but will defend itself if needed.

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Speaking virtually to a forum organised by Taiwanese think tank the Institute for National Policy Research, Abe noted the Senkaku islands – which China calls the Diaoyu Islands – Sakishima islands and Yonaguni island are a mere 100 km (62 miles) or so away from Taiwan.

An armed invasion of Taiwan would be a grave danger to Japan, he added.

“A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-U.S. alliance. People in Beijing, President Xi Jinping in particular, should never have a misunderstanding in recognising this,” Abe said.

Japan is host to major U.S. military bases, including on the southern island of Okinawa, a short flight from Taiwan, which would be crucial for any U.S. support during a Chinese attack.

The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, though there is ambiguity about whether it would send forces to help Taiwan in a war with China.

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The United States and its allies would take unspecified “action” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-taiwan-idAFKBN2HV2PU if China were to use force to alter the status quo over Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month.

Abe, who stepped down as prime minister last year, is head of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and remains influential within the party.

On Sino-Japanese relations going forward, Abe said Japan should advance its ties with China while firmly saying to its giant neighbour what needs to be said, echoing incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Japan, Taiwan and all the people who believe in democracy need to keep urging President Xi Jinping and other Chinese Communist Party leaders repeatedly not to step onto a wrong path,” Abe said.

Japan and Taiwan must work together to protect freedom and democracy, added Abe, speaking to an audience that included Cheng Wen-tsan, mayor of the northern Taiwanese city of Taoyuan, tipped as a possible future presidential candidate.

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“A stronger Taiwan, a thriving Taiwan, and a Taiwan that guarantees freedom and human rights are also in Japan’s interests. Of course, this is also in the interests of the whole world,” Abe said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle)

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Air travelers to U.S. set to face tougher COVID-19 testing

Published

on

December 1, 2021

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. is moving to require that all air travelers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure in response to concerns about a new coronavirus variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday.

Currently, vaccinated international air travelers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. Unvaccinated travelers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.

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The new one-day testing requirement would apply equally to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Reuters reported earlier that a draft proposal was circulating among government agencies for the stricter testing requirement.

A CDC spokeswoman confirmed the agency is working to modify its global testing rules for travel “as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States.”

The administration is also considering whether to require air travelers to get another COVID-19 test within three to five days after arrival in the United States, officials said.

The CDC did not confirm that, but noted it continues to recommend all “travelers should get a COVID-19 viral test 3-5 days after arrival” and “post-travel quarantine for any unvaccinated travelers.”

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The stricter rules could be announced Thursday, but it was not clear when they might take effect.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency “is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines.”

On Monday, the White House barred nearly all foreign nationals who have recently been in South Africa and seven other southern African countries over concerns about the Omicron variant.

A White House official said earlier Tuesday the administration is evaluating COVID-19 measures “including considering more stringent testing requirements for international travel.”

On Tuesday, the CDC advised Americans against travel to Niger, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Trinidad and Tobago, citing COVID-19 concerns.

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The CDC now lists about 80 foreign destinations as having “Level Four,” its highest level of COVID-19 transmission, and discourages Americans from traveling to those destinations.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Sandra Maler, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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