EU worried by Belarus Polish minority crackdown: Poland

(WARSAW) - European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has expressed concern about a crackdown on the Polish minority in Belarus and plans to take Minsk to task, Poland announced Thursday.

On Monday, Poland recalled its ambassador from Minsk for consultations after Belarus police took over a building owned by the Union of Poles in Belarus.

"Baroness Ashton shared her concerns regarding the situation and said she was ready to raise the issue with the Belarussian authorities," the Polish foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said Ashton had spoken by telephone Thursday with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

"They discussed potential EU reactions to support Polish steps to defend the rights of the Polish minority in Belarus," it said.

The treatment of the Polish minority in neighbouring Belarus has long poisoned ties between the neighbours. Tensions have spiked amid a crackdown by the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Ethnic Poles make up an estimated 400,000 of Belarus's total population of 10 million people. Their presence is a legacy of World War II border changes that pushed Poland's frontier westwards.

The organisation is backed by Warsaw, but is not recognised by Minsk.

Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov is to visit Poland Friday. Sikorski said Monday that he would have a "man to man" discussion with him about the minority issue.

On Tuesday, the European parliament's chief Jerzy Buzek, who is Polish, had urged Belarus to respect the minority's rights.

Poland has also asked the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to step in.


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