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Neighbours of Belarus say migrant crisis risks military clash

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November 11, 2021

By Andrius Sytas and Joanna Plucinska

KAPCIAMIESTIS, Lithuania/WARSAW (Reuters) -Countries bordering Belarus on Thursday warned the migrant crisis on the European Union’s eastern borders could escalate into a military confrontation while Ukraine said it would deploy thousands more troops to reinforce its frontier.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia said Belarus posed serious threats to European security by deliberately escalating its “hybrid attack” using migrants to retaliate for EU sanctions.

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“This increases the possibility of provocations and serious incidents that could also spill over into the military domain,” a joint statement by the countries’ defence ministers said.

While not an EU member, Ukraine is wary of becoming another flashpoint in the escalating migrant crisis. Kyiv announced drills and the deployment of 8,500 additional troops and police officers to the country’s long northern border with Belarus.

Migrants stranded inside Belarus threw rocks and branches at Polish border guards and used logs to try to break down a razor wire fence overnight in new attempts to force their way into the EU, the authorities in Warsaw said.

The EU says Minsk is encouraging thousands of migrants fleeing war-torn parts of the world to try to cross its borders and may impose new sanctions on Belarus and airlines ferrying the migrants as soon as Monday.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to retaliate, including by shutting down the transit of Russian natural gas via Belarus, although there was no immediate response from Russia, its close ally and financial backer.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will try to help Europe weather an energy crunch and is hoping that German authorities will soon certify the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will carry more Russian gas to Germany.

Moscow reacted angrily in the past when Ukraine, another transit country, disrupted supplies of gas to the West and Lukashenko has proved a difficult partner, pushing back against its wishes at times while accepting loans and subsidised energy.

Russia dispatched two strategic bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace on Wednesday in a show of support for its ally. Belarus said Russian planes carried out drills for a second day on Thursday.

“Yes, these are bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” Lukashenko said. “But we have no other option. We must see what they are doing there beyond the borders.”

He also said there were attempts to transfer weapons to the migrants, in what he described as a provocation in comments carried by Belarus state media. He did not provide any evidence and it was not clear who he was accusing of doing this.

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The Kremlin said Russia had nothing to do with tensions on the border and suggested the presence of heavily armed people on both sides was a source of concern. It also rejected as “crazy” a suggestion in a media report that Russia’s flag carrier Aeroflot could be targeted with retaliatory sanctions.

The EU has not said which airlines will be included, but Turkey also responded angrily to the sanctions plan.

“We reject efforts to portray Turkey, which is not a party to this issue, as part of the problem,” Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement, adding Ankara viewed the targeting of its flag-carrier Turkish Airlines over the matter as “intentional”.

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Trapped between two borders, the migrants have endured freezing weather in makeshift camps. Poland has reported at least seven migrant deaths in the months-long crisis and other migrants have expressed fear https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/no-going-back-migrants-tell-being-trapped-belarus-poland-border-2021-11-10 they would die.

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None of around 150 migrants gathered near the town of Bialowieza managed to breach the border, a spokesperson for the Polish border guard service told Reuters, saying there were 468 attempted crossings on Wednesday.

Neighbouring EU state Lithuania, which like Poland has imposed a state of emergency on the border, also reported new attempts to breach the frontier.

It said it had asked the United Nations to discuss creating a “humanitarian corridor” from the border zone to help the migrants return to their home countries, saying social media accounts showed some people trapped there wanted to go back.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski said the crisis was “the worst threat Poland has faced in the last thirty years”, telling Italian daily La Stampa Warsaw expected an escalation in the coming days.

EU foreign ministers may approve a fifth Belarus sanctions package on Monday that could include individuals and companies, a diplomat said on Thursday. The bloc’s executive commission said airlines that bring migrants would be on the list and two diplomats said the main airport in Belarus was also being considered.

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The EU accuses Lukashenko of manufacturing the crisis in revenge for earlier sanctions in response to a violent crackdown on mass street protests against his rule in 2020. Germany said he must be countered with all strength.

“Lukashenko is making an inhumane power play with people,” said German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is set to become the country’s next chancellor.

Lukashenko and Russia have said the EU was not living up to its humanitarian values by preventing migrants from crossing.

Large groups of people fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere started flying to Minsk this spring with the help of Belarusian travel agencies. They then travel to the border with Poland, Lithuania or Latvia and try to cross into the EU, sometimes with wire cutters they say were given to them by Belarusian border guards.

EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas was in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday as part of a trip to countries in the region whose airlines are operating flights to Belarus, diplomats and officials said.

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(Reporting by Alan Charlish in Suprasl, Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw, Andrius Sytas in Kapciamiestis, Lithuania, Sabine Siebold, Robin Emmott and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels, Maxim Rodionov, Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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