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Macedonia defends use of tear gas against migrants

AFP , Tuesday 1 Mar 2016
A refugee pour water over a woman who collapsed because of losing her child in a panic move after of Macedonian police used tear gas against refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border during their protest demanding the opening of the borders near the village of Idomeni on February 29, 2016. (AFP)
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Macedonia's foreign minister has defended his country's use of tear gas against hundreds of migrants who tried to break through a fence at the Greek border, also warning that the pressure on the Balkans could spark conflict.

Macedonian police on Monday fired volleys of tear gas at migrants, including women and children, who forced their way past a Greek police cordon and tried to break through a barbed wire fence into Macedonia.

"What we have seen is some 400 young male people trying forcibly to enter Macedonian territory from Greece," Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki told BBC Newsnight late Monday.

"If you are part of the security forces and you are faced with a situation where you have a violent attempt from several hundred young male people to enter territory, without willing(ness) to register or to go to reception centres, I don't think that this is in line with what we have agreed at the European level."

Thousands of migrants are stranded in Greece after Macedonia, along with other Balkan states including Serbia and EU members Slovenia and Croatia, imposed a daily limit on the number of migrants allowed to enter.

In a separate interview with German business daily Handelsblatt, Poposki warned: "We have to be careful that it doesn't lead to conflict between neighbours. Slovenia sends back illegal migrants to Croatia, Croatia to Serbia, and Serbia to Macedonia et cetera," Poposki said.

"I fear that such a scenario could become reality with a high number of refugees. If in addition, pressure grows from the south of the Balkan route, then there could be a serious conflict situation in the Balkans. We must aim to avoid such a situation."

Poposki reiterated that Macedonia, which is home to two million people and has seen tens of thousands of migrants pass through its territory, was keen to join the European Union.

He told the BBC that the easiest thing for the country to do was "to simply pull out and let all the migrants cross", but that EU members instead wanted a comprehensive system registering eligible asylum seekers.

"Right now we have to have a system and the biggest problem is that this system doesn't seem to work. Therefore each one of us has to do his part of the responsibility on his own territory," he said.

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