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Belarus says EU talks over border agreed

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has agreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold talks with the European Union over a migration crisis on its borders, his office says.

The announcement came following a second call this week between the outgoing German leader and the Belarusian strongman, who is accused by officials in Brussels of provoking a migrant crisis on the border with Poland.

There was no initial confirmation from the German side of the apparent agreement.

Lukashenko – often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator” – is not recognised by any EU countries as the legitimate leader of Belarus following a disputed election and a crackdown on dissent last year.

Merkel and Lukashenko’s first telephone conversation on Monday, which lasted about 50 minutes, had already provoked criticism from inside and outside Germany.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is Lukashenko’s primary political backer.

Earlier on Wednesday, Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller described Merkel’s first call with Lukashenko as “not a good step”.

In remarks to public broadcaster TVP, he said the conversation was “in a way, acceptance of his election”.

Poland’s deputy premier, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was more broad in his criticism, saying “internationalisation” of the border issue was necessary “but not in such a way that people talk over our heads”.

Within Germany, the foreign policy spokesman for the Green Party, Omid Nouripour, described the talks as “devastating”.

Merkel’s spokesman was forced to defend the call on Wednesday.

“She made this phone call in close co-ordination with the European Commission and after contacting important partners, especially in the region,” Steffen Seibert said in Berlin.

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