Polish PM condemns Belarus crackdown on Polish minority

WARSAW -Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Friday condemned what he termed the repression of the Polish minority in neighbouring Belarus, after authorities there cracked down on a Polish group.

"This unjustified and scandalous element of repression and harassment of the Polish minority and institutions linked to it are devoid of merit and the result of the complicated internal political situation of Belarus," Tusk said Friday.

"A condition for better Polish-Belarussian relations and European-Belarussian relations must be increasingly higher standards, including the standard of treatment for the Polish and other minorities in Belarus," Tusk added.

Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, visiting Warsaw Friday, denied Minsk had violated the rights of its Polish minority and pointed to a "misunderstanding between two factions" within that minority.

"The government of Belarus does not want to interfere. These two fractions must reach an agreement," he told reporters at a joint press conference with his Polish opposite number Radoslaw Sikorski.

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, on Friday did not rule out the EU could break off relations with Belarus if human rights continued to suffer there.

"We have to act carefully, but breaking off relations is not ruled out" if Belarus continues to violate fundamental freedoms, Buzek said in Torun, central Poland, as quoted by the Polish PAP news agency.

The authoritarian regime of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed by some as 'Europe's last dictator', recognises a pro-government organisation as the only legal representative of Belarus' entire Polish minority.

Warsaw, meanwhile, backs another group, the Union of Poles in Belarus.

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

Poland's PAP new agency reported Friday that Belarussian police had detained Mieczyslaw Jaskiewicz, the deputy head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, on allegations of using a false driving licence. His detention came a day after he took part in what Belarussian authorities termed an illegal protest over the police crackdown.

The minority issue has long poisoned ties between Poland and Belarus.

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.



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