Connect with us

World

Russian bomber planes signal backing for Belarus as migrant crisis escalates

Published

on

November 10, 2021

By Maria Kiselyova and Alan Charlish

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia took the rare step of dispatching two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace on Wednesday in a show of support to close ally Belarus at a time when it is locked in a migrant standoff with the European Union.

Moscow’s decision to up the ante came as the 27-nation bloc considered sanctions on Wednesday to punish Minsk for what it calls an artificially created crisis, something Belarus denies.

Advertisement

Migrants trapped in Belarus made multiple attempts to force their way into Poland overnight, Warsaw said on Wednesday, announcing that it had reinforced the border with extra guards.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on states to deescalate and resolve the “intolerable” crisis.

“These hundreds of men, women and children must not be forced to spend another night in freezing weather without adequate shelter, food, water and medical care,” she said.

The EU, which has repeatedly sanctioned Belarus for human rights abuses, accuses Minsk of drawing in migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa and then pushing them to cross into Poland to try to sow violent chaos on the bloc’s eastern flank.

The bloc’s 27 ambassadors agreed on Wednesday that this amounts to “hybrid warfare” by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – a legal basis for new sanctions.

Advertisement

“We are facing a brutal hybrid attack on our EU borders. Belarus is weaponizing migrants’ distress in a cynical and shocking way,” EU Council President Charles Michel said.

Belarus and its ally Russia have placed the blame on Europe, with the Kremlin accusing it of failing to live up to its own humanitarian ideals and trying to “strangle” Belarus with plans to close part of the frontier. It said it was unacceptable for the EU to impose sanctions on Belarus over the crisis.

The Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers that Russia sent to overfly Belarus are capable of carrying nuclear missiles, including hypersonic ones of the kind designed to evade sophisticated Western air defences.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped responsible Europeans would “not allow themselves to be drawn into a spiral that is fairly dangerous”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Putin to put pressure on Belarus over the situation at the border, a German government spokesperson said. The Kremlin said Putin told her the EU should talk directly to Belarus.

Advertisement

PRESSURE POINT

The crisis strikes the EU in a vulnerable area.

In 2015 the bloc was deeply shaken by an influx of more than 1 million people fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan that led to deep rifts between member states, strained social security systems and fanned support for far-right parties.

The EU appears more united this time but there are some signs of internal friction with Brussels warning Poland that it should not use EU funds to erects border walls and razor wire.

Thousands of people have converged on the border this week, where makeshift razor wire fences and Polish soldiers have repeatedly blocked their entry. Some of the migrants have used logs, spades and other implements to try to break through.

Advertisement

“It was not a calm night. Indeed, there were many attempts to breach the Polish border,” Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told broadcaster PR1.

Video from the border obtained by Reuters showed young children and babies among the people stuck there.

“There are lots of families here with babies between two or four months old. They have not eaten anything for the past three days,” the person who provided the video told Reuters, saying they were a migrant themselves and declining to be named.

Reuters found ripped up tickets from Middle Eastern airlines, documents from tourist agencies and receipts in the forest near the Polish town of Hajnowka at what appeared to be an abandoned camp site. Shoes, plastic water bottles, sleeping bags and garbage bags of provisions were also found.

Poland’s prime minister said the EU needed to block flights from the Middle East to Belarus.

Advertisement

REINFORCEMENTS

The Polish border guards service reported 599 illegal border crossing attempts on Tuesday, with 9 people detained and 48 sent back. Blaszczak said the force of Polish soldiers stationed at the border had been strengthened to 15,000 from 12,000.

The EU accuses Lukashenko of using “gangster-style” tactics in the months-long border standoff, in which at least seven migrants have died. The new EU sanctions would target around 30 individuals and entities including the Belarusian foreign minister, three EU diplomats told Reuters.

The crisis erupted after the EU, United States and Britain imposed sanctions on Belarus over its violent crackdown on mass street protests that were sparked by Lukashenko’s disputed election victory in 2020.

Lukashenko turned to traditional ally Russia for support and financing to ride out the protests. Russia regards Belarus as a strategic buffer against NATO.

Advertisement

Poland denies accusations by humanitarian groups that it is violating the international right to asylum by hustling migrants back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Warsaw says its actions are legal.

Some migrants have complained of being repeatedly pushed back and forth by Polish and Belarusian border guards, putting them at risk of exposure, lack of food and water.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish in Suprasl, Poland, Andrius Sytas in Kapciamiestis, Lithuania, Kacper Pempel and Felix Hoska in Hajnowka, Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper, Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Kirsti Knolle in Berlin, Dmitry Antonov and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Matthias Williams in Kyiv; writing by Matthias Williams, Andrew Osborn and Mark Trevelyan; editing by John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher)

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement

World

Germany jails Islamic State member for life over role in Yazidi genocide

Published

on

November 30, 2021

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – A German court on Tuesday jailed a former Islamic State militant for life after convicting him of involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity over mass killings of minority Yazidis by IS in Syria and Iraq.

It was the first genocide verdict against a member of Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda that seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 before being ousted by U.S.-backed counter-offensives, losing its last territorial redoubt in 2019.

The court in Frankfurt found Taha al-Jumailly, 29, an Iraqi national, guilty of involvement in the slaughter of more than 3,000 Yazidis and enslavement of 7,000 women and girls by IS jihadists in 2014-15.

Advertisement

This, the court ruled, included the murder of a five-year-old girl the defendant had enslaved and chained to a window, leaving her to die in scorching heat.

Al-Jumailly, who entered the court on Tuesday covering his face with a file folder, was arrested in Greece in 2019 and extradited to Germany where relatives of slain Yazidis acted as plaintiffs supporting the prosecution.

The defendant’s German wife, identified only as Jennifer W., was used as a prosecution witness at the trial. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month for involvement in the enslavement of the Yazidi girl and her mother.

The Yazidis are an ancient religious minority in eastern Syria and northwest Iraq that Islamic State viewed as supposed devil worshippers for their faith that combines Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.

Islamic State’s depredations also displaced most of the 550,000-strong Yazidi community.

Advertisement

(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Continue Reading

World

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Published

on

November 30, 2021

By Timour Azhari and Maha El Dahan

MAARAB, Lebanon (Reuters) – One of Lebanon’s main Christian politicians accused foe Hezbollah and its allies of working to postpone a parliamentary election set for March over fears of electoral losses, warning such a move would condemn Lebanon to a “slow death”.

Western donors that Lebanon is relying on to stem its financial implosion have said the vote must go ahead. Politicians from all sides, including Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah, have repeatedly said it should happen otherwise the country’s standing would be dealt a further blow.

Advertisement

But Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces and an ally of Saudi Arabia, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay it “because they are near certain that they will lose their parliamentary majority”.

Aoun said this month he would not sign authorisation for the vote, approved by parliament, to be held on March 27 as the date was too early.

Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Geagea, said: “Not fighting, but to more slow death.”

“With the current way things are going, state institutions – and so the state – is dissolving day by day,” he told Reuters at his residence in the mountains overlooking the coastal town of Jounieh.

Lebanon has no reliable opinion polling but should the election take place, Geagea’s party is widely expected to make gains, with the Free Patriotic Movement expected to lose seats, potentially robbing Hezbollah of its majority.

Advertisement

Without an election to shake up parliament “you will see more of the same”, Geagea said. The United Nations says the economic meltdown has left nearly 80% of people in poverty.

Lebanon’s government, formed from most major political parties in September following a 13-month period of political paralysis, has already not convened in nearly 50 days amid a push by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Adding to the economic peril, Lebanon is facing a blast of Gulf Arab anger after a prominent broadcaster-turned-minister levelled blunt criticism at Saudi Arabia, in a row that has further strained Beirut’s ties with once generous benefactors.

Geagea, who maintained close contact to the Saudi ambassador in Beirut, said Hezbollah’s increasing influence was the main problem behind the rift that is harmful to Lebanon’s economy.

“We see Saudi and the Gulf as economic lungs for Lebanon,” he said.

Advertisement

STREET CLASHES

Geagea’s Lebanese Forces is the second largest Christian party in parliament. It has stayed out of the cabinet since a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019.

But the group was thrust back into the headlines when tensions over the probe erupted into the worst street violence in more than a decade last month, reviving memories of the country’s 1975-90 civil war.

Seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and its ally Amal, were killed.

Hezbollah accused the Lebanese Forces of ambushing its supporters at the protest. Geagea confirmed supporters of his party, along with others, were involved in the clashes, but denied the move was pre-meditated and blamed Hezbollah for entering Beirut’s mostly Christian Ain al-Remmaneh neighbourhood, a strong support base for the Lebanese Forces.

Advertisement

During Lebanon’s civil war, the Lebanese Forces, under Geagea, was a right-wing militia that controlled swathes of territory including eastern Beirut.

Following October’s clashes, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused it of seeking to start a sectarian conflict and warned Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters at his disposal.

Geagea denied Nasrallah’s allegation that the Lebanese Forces had 15,000 fighters, saying the party had 35,000 members of whom only some had personal arms and perhaps more than 10,000 – “the whole old generation” – had military training.

Geagea said the Lebanese Forces did not seek a physical confrontation with Hezbollah and were not concerned about the breakout of sectarian violence due to the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining civil peace.

However, he said he had limited his movement and was not leaving his mountain residence in Maarab due to security threats, without giving further details.

Advertisement

(Reporting By Timour Azhari and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Alison Williams)

Continue Reading

World

Attack on Ukraine would be costly, NATO warns Moscow

Published

on

November 30, 2021

By Humeyra Pamuk and Sabine Siebold

RIGA (Reuters) – Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s intentions for massing troops on the border of the former Soviet republic.

The West has already shown that it can wield economic, financial and political sanctions against Moscow, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of talks of the alliance’s foreign ministers in the Latvian capital Riga.

Advertisement

“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation, Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to brief his 29 NATO counterparts on Washington’s intelligence on what is going on at the alliance’s eastern flank and in Ukraine, which is not a member.

“Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States… and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” he said at a news conference before the meeting.

“We will be consulting closely with NATO allies and partners in the days ahead… about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity.”

Kyiv’s aspirations for integration with the West have triggered a standoff with Moscow.

Advertisement

‘MALIGN ACTIVITY’

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.

Two Russian troop build-ups this year on Ukraine’s borders have alarmed the West. In May, Russian troops there numbered 100,000, the largest since its takeover of Crimea, Western officials say.

Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukraine’s suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.

Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.

Advertisement

“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken… Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”

Adding to Western concerns, Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with Russia on its border with Ukraine. While also a former Soviet republic, Minsk is an ally of Moscow.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West accuses of seeking to divide the European Union by sending Middle Eastern migrants to the border of NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, warned Minsk would not sit on the sidelines in case of war.

“It is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said, referring to Moscow, whose financial and political backing helped him weather mass public protests in August 2020.

Advertisement

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Trending