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Belarusian troops may have helped refugees reach Europe: Lukashenko

MOSCOW: The Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has acknowledged that his troops probably helped Middle Eastern asylum seekers cross into Europe, in the clearest admission yet that he engineered the new migrant crisis on the border with the EU.

In an interview on Friday at his presidential palace in Minsk, he said it was “absolutely possible” that his troops helped migrants across the frontier into Poland. “Maybe someone helped them. I won’t even look into this,” he said.

He denied being responsible for the migrant crisis but admitted to letting asylum seekers through Belarus to the EU’s borders “because they’re not coming to my country, they’re going to yours”.

Belarusian state media teased the interview on Friday as Lukashenko has sought to showcase his direct contacts with western leaders and media despite his increasing international isolation. “You know perfectly well it’s going to be interesting,” a state media Telegram channel wrote, saying Lukashenko had spoken with a “major western news outlet”. Representatives of the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya criticized the interview as “giving the floor to a dictator”, the broadcaster reported. Lukashenko also gave an interview to CNN in September.

Lukashenko also admitted that his security services severely beat people who had been imprisoned for protesting against tainted elections last year. “OK, OK, I admit it, I admit it. People were beaten in the Okrestina detention center. But there were police beaten up too and you didn’t show this,” he said.

Human Rights Watch last year said it had spoken to detainees who described “beatings, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and, in at least one case, rape and said they saw other detainees suffer the same or worse abuse. They had serious injuries, including broken bones, cracked teeth, skin wounds, electrical burns, and mild traumatic brain injuries. Some had kidney damage”.

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