Tensions rise in migrant standoff at Poland-Belarus border

Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence on the Poland - Belarus border in Grodno District, Belarus, in this still image taken from a social media video on November 9, 2021. (Reuters)
Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence on the Poland - Belarus border in Grodno District, Belarus, in this still image taken from a social media video on November 9, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 November 2021

Tensions rise in migrant standoff at Poland-Belarus border

Migrants gather near a barbed wire fence on the Poland - Belarus border in Grodno District, Belarus, in this still image taken from a social media video on November 9, 2021. (Reuters)
  • Independent journalists have limited ability to operate in Belarus, and a state of emergency in Poland kept reporters and others away from its side of the border

WARSAW, Poland: Poland reinforced its border with Belarus with more riot police on Tuesday, a day after groups of migrants tried to storm through a razor-wire fence on the eastern frontier where thousands have camped on the Belarusian side in the tense standoff.
The European Union accuses Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns in a “hybrid attack” against the bloc in retaliation for imposing sanctions on the authoritarian government for a brutal internal crackdown on dissent. Thousands were jailed and beaten following months of protests after Lukashenko won a sixth term in a 2020 election that the opposition and the West saw as rigged.
Polish authorities said all was calm overnight on the border — which is also the eastern edge of the 27-nation EU — but they were bracing for any possibility. The Defense Ministry said a large group of Belarusian forces was moving toward the migrant encampments.
During a special session of parliament, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described the situation at the border as part of an effort by Russia to disrupt a region that it controlled during the Soviet era that ended three decades ago.
“It must be strongly emphasized that the security of our eastern border is being brutally violated. This is the first such situation in 30 years when we can say that the integrity of our borders is being tested,” Morawiecki said.
Speaking during a UN Security Council meeting, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected similar accusations, and noted that the migrants are not seeking to stay in Belarus but to get to Europe.
“So who is creating the crisis, building fences with barbed wire and concentrating troops at the border?” Nebenzia said, adding that the EU doesn’t want to accept the migrants, and “it is time to stop playing the blame game.”
Polish Maj. Katarzyna Zdanowicz estimated 3,000-4,000 migrants were along the border, including about 800 near the makeshift camps. Belarusian security services also were there to “control, steer and direct these people,” she added.
She said Poland’s assessment came from aerial observations, alleging that Belarus authorities were taking journalists to the area to promote their version of events.
Independent journalists have limited ability to operate in Belarus, and a state of emergency in Poland kept reporters and others away from its side of the border.
The scene was quiet as night fell, and migrants were seen getting water and other supplies on the Belarusian side, according to Zdanowicz, based on what observations from across the frontier. She said guards prevented some small groups from crossing, part of hundreds of such attempts Tuesday.
The Belarusian Defense Ministry summoned the Polish military attache to protest what it called “unfounded and unlawful Polish allegations” against the Belarusian military at the border. It also voiced concern about the buildup of Polish troops there, saying Warsaw did not notify or invite Belarusian observers per international rules for activity involving more than 6,000 troops.
Speaking on Belarusian state television, Lukashenko threw the allegation of a “hybrid war” back at the EU, pointing at its sanctions against Belarus and adding: “And you, bastards, madmen want me to protect you from migrants.”
“I am afraid that this confrontation at the border because of migrants might lead to an active phase. These are grounds for provocations. All provocations are possible,” he said, accusing Poland’s military of flying its helicopters low at the border, frightening the migrants.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the West bore responsibility for triggering the flows of migrants through their “aggressive wars in the Middle East and North Africa.” The migrants, he said, don’t want to stay in Belarus and “want to get to Europe that has advertised its way of living for many years.”
The crisis has simmered for months after Poland, Lithuania and Latvia accused neighboring Belarus of encouraging thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East, to illegally enter those nations. Many of the migrants often end up stuck in a forested area of swamps and bogs, pushed back and forth between Belarusian and Polish forces.
The Belarusian opposition urged the West to strengthen its sanctions on Minsk.
“It’s necessary to introduce tough sanctions, trade embargo and a full stop of transit of goods between the EU and Belarus,” Pavel Latushka, a leading opposition figure, said on a messaging app, urging Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, “as countries on the front line of a hybrid attack launched by the regime, to stop transit.”
On Tuesday, the EU tightened visa rules for Belarus officials, saying it was “partially suspending” an agreement with Minsk. The move affects Belarusian government officials, lawmakers, diplomats and top court representatives by requiring them to provide additional documents and pay more for visas.
Lawmakers in Lithuania voted to declare a state of emergency for a month along the Belarus border, restricting the movement of vehicles and banning all entry, except for residents, in a zone reaching 5 kilometers (3 miles) inland. Guards can check vehicles and people, and gatherings also are banned. It also applies to migrant accommodations in the capital of Vilnius and elsewhere.
At least 170 migrants were stopped from entering Lithuania on Tuesday.
In videos posted on Twitter by Polish police, the migrants were seen in tents and cooking over campfires in near-freezing temperatures. The police blared announcements that border crossing is allowed only at official posts, with visas, and the nearest crossing point in Kuznica was closed early Tuesday.
Refugee agencies UNHCR and International Organization for Migration called the situation “alarming,” and said they contacted governments in both Poland and Belarus to urge them to ensure that those in the makeshift camp get humanitarian assistance.
A man in the Polish village of Bialowieza told The Associated Press he has met many migrants who often are thirsty, hungry and in need of boots or medical care. He is among volunteers distributing food and other aid, and spoke on condition of anonymity because Polish authorities discourage such help.
“They are in really bad condition and the situation is getting worse” as temperatures drop, he said.
Some of the migrants believed they were in Germany and appeared to have been “very disinformed by Belarusian soldiers and guards,” the man said.
At least eight migrant deaths have been recorded by Polish and Belarusian authorities, most of them in Poland.
Morawiecki went to the border Tuesday, accompanied by Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, to meet with border guards and other security officials.
“We do not know what else Lukashenko’s regime will come up with — this is the reality,” Morawiecki said, praising the guards.
Poland has received strong signals of solidarity from the EU and Washington in the confrontation with Belarus.
Germany’s outgoing interior minister, Horst Seehofer, said all EU countries “must stand together, because Lukashenko is using people’s fates — with the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin — to destabilize the West.”
Many migrants have flown to Minsk on tourist visas and travel by taxi to the border. The EU is seeking to pressure airlines not to facilitate such trips. Although direct flights from Iraq were suspended in August, migrants have been arriving in Belarus from Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and even Russia, according to recent internal EU reports seen by the AP. Smugglers use social media to advertise transportation from Belarus to Germany by car.
Pavel Usau, head of the Center for Political Analysis and Prognosis, said Lukashenko expects the West to make concessions.
“Lukashenko is provoking the West to take aggressive action, but, on the other hand, he expects that Western countries will yield to pressure and will be forced to engage in negotiations,” Usau said in an interview from Warsaw.


Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities

Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities
Updated 6 sec ago

Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities

Taiwan touts new air force advanced training jet’s abilities
  • Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States
  • The Brave Eagle trainer can be equipped with weapons, though that remains in the testing phase
TAITUNG, Taiwan: Taiwan’s air force showed off its new locally designed and made jet trainer on Wednesday, touting the more advanced, combat-capable abilities of the aircraft that will replace aging and accident-prone existing equipment.
Taiwan’s armed forces are mostly equipped by the United States, but President Tsai Ing-wen has made development of an advanced home-grown defense industry a priority, especially as China, which claims the island as its own, steps up military modernization efforts and drills near Taiwan.
The new AT-5 Brave Eagle, made by state-owned Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. with a budget of T$68.6 billion ($2.3 billion), had its first test flight in 2020.
It is Taiwan’s first jet made domestically since the F-CK-1 Ching-kuo Indigenous Defense Fighter, or IDF, rolled out more than three decades ago, and the two jets look similar and have similar capabilities.
Three Brave Eagle’s roared into the air at the Chihhang air base in Taitung on Taiwan’s east coast, in a show of its prowess in front of reporters.
Flight training officer Chang Chong-hao said the Brave Eagle was suitable for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training purposes, and can land and take off using a shorter amount of runway.
“So it helps give the students more space to deal with some unforeseen situations.”
The Brave Eagle trainer can be equipped with weapons, though that remains in the testing phase, and the plane is designed to have a support function in time of war.
“We’re not involved in the armaments part, those tests are up to the manufacturer ADIC,” said air force officer Huang Chun-yuan. “Our main mission at the moment is general conversion training and tandem flying.”
Taiwan’s air force plans on taking 66 units by 2026 to replace aging AT-3 and F-5 training aircraft, which have suffered a series of crashes in recent years. An AT-3, a model that first flew in 1980, crashed in May, while three F-5s have crashed in the past year or so.
The F-5s first entered service in Taiwan in the 1970s, though are no longer front line combat aircraft.

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing
Updated 27 min 30 sec ago

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing

Shanghai, Beijing order new round of mass COVID-19 testing
  • Shanghai has only just emerged from a strict lockdown that confined most of its 24 million residents to their homes for weeks

BEIJING: Residents of parts of Shanghai and Beijing have been ordered to undergo further rounds of COVID-19 testing following the discovery of new cases in the two cities, while tight restrictions remain in place in Hong Kong, Macao and other Chinese cities.
Shanghai has only just emerged from a strict lockdown that confined most of its 24 million residents to their homes for weeks and the new requirements have stirred concerns of a return of such harsh measures.
The latest outbreak in China’s largest city, a key international business center, has been linked to a karaoke parlor that failed to enforce prevention measures among employees and customers, including the tracing of others they came into contact with, according to the city health commission. All such outlets have been ordered to temporarily suspend business, the city’s department of culture and tourism said.
Shanghai’s lockdown prompted unusual protests both in person and online against the government’s harsh enforcement, which left many residents struggling to access food and medical services and sent thousands to quarantine centers.
Beijing has also seen a recent outbreak linked to a nightlife spot. It has been conducting regular testing for weeks and at least one residential compound in the suburb of Shunyi, which is home to many foreign residents, has been locked down with a steel fence installed over its entrance to prevent residents from leaving.
Enforcement in China’s capital has been far milder than in Shanghai, although officials continue to require regular testing and prevention measures.
In the northern city of Xi’an, whose 13 million residents endured one of China’s strictest lockdowns over the winter, restaurants have been restricted to takeout only and public entertainment spots closed for a week starting Wednesday.
A notice on the city government’s website said the measures were only temporary and intended to prevent the chance of a renewed outbreak. It said supermarkets, offices, public transport and other facilities are continuing to operate as normal, with routine screening including temperature checks and people being required to show an app proving they are free of infection.
Neighboring Hong Kong has also seen a rising trend of coronavirus infections since mid-June. In the past seven days, daily infections reported averaged about 2,000 a day.
The city’s new leader, John Lee, said Wednesday that Hong Kong must not “lie flat” when it comes to COVID-19, rejecting the “living with the coronavirus” mentality that most of the world has adopted.
His comments echo the sentiments of Chinese authorities, who have stuck with their “zero-COVID” policy that has become closely identified with President and head of the ruling Communist Party Xi Jinping.
However, Lee has said that Hong Kong authorities are exploring options, including shortening the duration of mandatory quarantine for incoming travelers. Currently, travelers must test negative for COVID-19 before flying and quarantine for seven days in designated hotels upon arrival.
The city, once known as a bustling business hub and international financial center, has seen tourism and business travel crippled by its tough entry restrictions.
The strict measures have remained in place despite relatively low numbers of cases and the serious negative effects on China’s economy and global supply chains.
The World Health Organization recently called the policy unsustainable, a view Chinese officials rejected outright even while they say they hope to minimize the impact.
While China’s borders remain largely closed, cutting off both visitors from abroad and outbound tourism, officials have cautiously increased flights from some foreign countries, most recently Russia.
Mainland China reported 353 cases of domestic transmission on Wednesday, 241 of them asymptomatic.
Shanghai announced just 24 cases over the past 24 hours, and Beijing five. Anhui announced 222 cases in what appears to be the latest cluster, prompting the inland province to order mass testing and travel restrictions in Si county, where the bulk of cases have been reported.


Gulf nations condemn violent attacks in Burkina Faso

Gulf nations condemn violent attacks in Burkina Faso
Updated 06 July 2022

Gulf nations condemn violent attacks in Burkina Faso

Gulf nations condemn violent attacks in Burkina Faso

DUBAI: Gulf nations have condemned the violent attacks in northern villages of Burkina Faso over the weekend which resulted in the death of dozens of people, including children, and injured others.
Armed men killed at least 34 people in separate incidents in Bourasso in Kossi province and Namissiguima in Yatenga province, both north of the country, the Burkina Faso government said over the weekend.
The West African nation, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been besieged by militant attacks by forces linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in recent years. The turmoil has resulted in the deaths of thousands and left nearly 2 million people displaced.
The UAE expressesd its “strong condemnation of these criminal acts” and repeated its rejection of “all forms of violence and terrorism aimed at destabilizing security and stability in contravention of human values and principles,” the country’s foreign affairs ministry said in the statement.
Bahrain also reiterated its “solidarity with Burkina Faso in its war against terrorism, calling on the international community to intensify its efforts in combating extremism and terrorism in all its forms,” according to its foreign affairs ministry.
Meanwhile, Kuwait’s foreign ministry in a statement outlined the country’s “principled and firm stance against violence and terrorism’ in condemning the attacks.
The Gulf states also sent their condolences to the Burkina Faso leadership and the families of the victims.


Hundreds urged to evacuate as Russians advance in Ukraine’s Donbas

Hundreds urged to evacuate as Russians advance in Ukraine’s Donbas
Updated 06 July 2022

Hundreds urged to evacuate as Russians advance in Ukraine’s Donbas

Hundreds urged to evacuate as Russians advance in Ukraine’s Donbas
  • Sloviansk has been subjected to “massive” Russian bombardment in recent days
  • Two Ukrainian Red Cross minibuses were heading there to evacuate willing civilians

SLOVIANSK: Ukrainian officials have called on civilians to urgently evacuate the city of Sloviansk as Russian troops press toward it in their campaign to secure the Donbas region.
Sloviansk has been subjected to “massive” Russian bombardment in recent days, with at least two people killed and seven others wounded in an attack on a marketplace Tuesday.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the Donetsk region, which includes Sloviansk, told Ukrainian media his “main advice is evacuate!“
“This week there hasn’t been a day without shelling,” he said Tuesday evening, adding that the city was now within range of Russian multiple-rocket launchers.
“The enemy is shelling chaotically, the attacks are aimed at destroying the local population,” he said
“So, once again, the main advice is to evacuate.”
AFP journalists on the ground in Sloviansk saw rockets slam into the marketplace and surrounding streets, with firefighters scrambling to put out the resulting fires.
Kyrylenko also reported shelling across “the entire frontline” in the eastern Donbas region, where Russia has refocused its efforts since abandoning its initial aim of capturing Kyiv, following tough Ukrainian resistance.
Donbas is mainly comprised of Lugansk, which Russian forces have almost entirely captured, and Donetsk to its southwest — the current focus of Moscow’s attack
The fall of Lysychansk in the region on Sunday, a week after the Ukrainian army also retreated from the neighboring city of Severodonetsk, has freed up Russian troops to advance on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
On Tuesday, they were first closing in on the smaller city of Siversk — which lies between Lysychansk and Sloviansk — after days of shelling there.
Two Ukrainian Red Cross minibuses were heading there to evacuate willing civilians, according to AFP reporters.

Two Ukrainian Red Cross minibuses were heading there to evacuate willing civilians, according to AFP reporters. (File/AFP)


“Heavy fighting is taking place on the outskirts of Lugansk region near Lysychansk,” Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday said on Telegram.
“The occupiers are withdrawing equipment to the Donetsk region.”
To the southwest, in the Moscow-occupied Kherson region, Russian troops have deployed helicopters and artillery to try to stem Ukrainian counter-attacks.
A spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry said Tuesday that Russian forces outside Donbas were “trying to bind our troops in order to prevent them from moving to the battle areas.”
Kherson city, which lies close to Moscow-annexed Crimea, was the first major city to fall to Russian forces in February, and has seen a campaign of so-called Russification since.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking in his evening address Tuesday, said he was continuing to press for upgraded anti-missile systems as air siren alerts sounded across much of the country, including the capital.
“The Russian army does not take any breaks,” he said.
“Our task is to hold on.”


Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north

Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north
Updated 06 July 2022

Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north

Thousands more flee as Sydney floods track north
  • New South Wales authorities issued fresh flood alerts north of Australia’s largest city
  • 85,000 people have been told to leave their homes immediately or be ready to depart imminentl

SYDNEY: Thousands of people on Australia’s east coast fled their homes Wednesday as torrential rains tracked north after unleashing floods in Sydney that submerged communities, roads and bridges under mud-brown water.
New South Wales authorities issued fresh flood alerts north of Australia’s largest city and warned that rising, rain-swollen rivers still posed a danger in parts of Sydney despite easing rainfall in the city.
“This event is far from over,” the state’s Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
Since the floods began over the weekend, emergency services have issued more than 100 evacuation orders.
A total 85,000 people have been told to leave their homes immediately or be ready to depart imminently so they will not be stranded by rising floodwaters.
Across Sydney’s western fringe, rivers broke their banks and large areas have been transformed into inland lakes, with mud-brown waters invading homes while cutting off roads and bridges.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the affected area Wednesday, promising to look for “long-term solutions” after multiple flooding disasters across Australia’s east coast in the past 18 months.
Albanese said that while “Australia has always been subject of floods, of bushfires,” scientists have warned climate change would make such events more frequent and intense.
“What we are seeing, unfortunately, is that play out,” he said.
There were 21 flood rescues across New South Wales overnight, and on Wednesday more than 1,000 emergency service workers were in the field.
The federal government has declared a natural disaster in 23 flooded parts of the state, unlocking relief payments to stricken residents.
Many people affected have lived through successive east coast floods that struck in 2021 and then again in March this year when more than 20 people were killed.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the weather system was expected to move off coast later this week.
Andrew Hall, chief executive of the Insurance Council of Australia, said he expected the Sydney floods would be declared a “catastrophe” by the insurance industry.
He said 2,700 insurance claims have been lodged by Tuesday from Sydney alone, and more were anticipated as people were able to return to their homes.
Hall said there had been Aus$5 billion ($3.4 billion) in catastrophe claims made in Australia this year.
It was “untenable” for homes that had flooded four times in the past 18 months to remain in the insurance pool, Hall said, adding: “We’ve got to stand back and ask the question, ‘Have we built homes in the wrong spot?’”