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Crowds at the Belarus-Poland border today. AP/PA Images

Belarus: EU and US vow new sanctions, Lukashenko talks to Angela Merkel

Belarus President Lukashenko today discussed the crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

THE EU AND the United States have vowed to press ahead with sanctions targeting the regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, as migrants massed at the Polish border despite Minsk claiming it was trying to repatriate them.

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers met and agreed that their existing sanctions regime targeting Lukashenko and his allies will be expanded to include individuals or companies found to have encouraged border crossings.

No new names were added to the sanctions list, but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this would be done in the “coming days”.

After meeting the ministers, Borrell said the new sanctions would hit “quite an important number” of individuals and entities.

“By expanding the scope of the sanctions we will be able to target those responsible for exploiting vulnerable migrants,” Borrell said.

Diplomats said the new penalties are expected to target around 30 Belarusian officials, the state airline and travel agencies.

In coordination with the EU, the United States said it was preparing new sanctions that would “continue to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its ongoing attacks on democracy and human rights and international norms.”

Migrants have been trying to cross from Belarus into EU member Poland for months, but tensions soared last week as coordinated efforts to cross were turned back by Polish border guards.

The EU accuses Belarus of sending the migrants to the border as retribution for earlier sanctions, but the threat of further measures moved Lukashenko to offer an apparent olive branch.

Hundreds of people, mostly from the Middle East set up tents at the Bruzgi border post today as Polish loudpeakers said: “Attention, attention: illegal border crossing is forbidden. You will face criminal charges.”

Belarus forces had channelled the crowd towards the last line of Polish razor wire, but they were brought up short by the police cordon before they could cross onto EU soil, and the stand-off continued.

Merkel talks to Lukashenko 

Lukashenko today discussed the crisis with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in his first phone call with a Western leader since suppressing mass protests in Belarus last summer.

The pair discussed bringing humanitarian aid to people stuck at the border, Minsk and Berlin said.

Also this evening, Lukashenko’s Russian ally Vladimir Putin discussed the crisis with French president Emmanuel Macron, with both leaders calling for the crisis to be de-escalated.

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