Poland refuses to halt disputed coal mine despite EU court penalty

By Foo Yun Chee and Anna Koper

BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland vowed to keep its disputed Turow coal mine running on Monday despite being hit with a order to pay a 500,000 euro ($585,550) daily penalty to the European Commission for defying an earlier court ruling to halt operations.

Europe’s top court, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ordered the penalty on Monday.

It followed a request from the Czech Republic, which is locked in a dragging dispute with Poland over the Turow open-pit mine that sits next to their shared border. The Czech government says the mine is damaging its communities.

The mine, which produces lignite, or brown coal, has been operating for more than a century, but has recently expanded further towards the Czech border.

The penalty order could pressure Warsaw to seek a resolution with Prague after bilateral talks started in June over technical upgrades and measures to limit damage to water levels and noise and air conditions. A deal should end any legal disputes.

The Polish government said the EU court’s penalty on Monday undermined those talks, and said Turow, a major source of jobs and electricity in its region, would continue operations.

“The fine mentioned by the Court of Justice of the European Union is disproportionate to the situation and is not justified by facts,” Poland’s government said in a statement.

“It undermines the ongoing process of reaching an amicable settlement.”

The court’s order comes amid other disputes Warsaw faces with the European Union, largely over the rule of law.

The Czech Republic has taken its grievance over Turow to the Commission, which last year started legal proceedings, saying Warsaw had breached EU law when extending the mine’s life.

The country also took its case to the CJEU, and won judges’ backing for a temporary order to stop Turow’s operations until a final judgment.

“JUDICIAL ROBBERY”

When Warsaw rejected a halt, Prague asked for a daily penalty payment of 5 million euros to be levied.

The court on Monday agreed but set the fine much lower.

“Such a measure appears necessary in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the interim measures decided upon in the order of 21 May 2021 and to deter that member state from delaying bringing its conduct into line with that order,” judges said.

Prague welcomed the penalty but said it still wanted to reach an agreement in an amicable way.

Some Polish officials strongly rejected the order.

“The CJEU demands half a million daily fines from Poland for the fact that Poland did not leave its citizens without energy and did not close the mines overnight,” deputy justice minister Marcin Romanowski said on Twitter.

“It is judicial robbery and theft in broad daylight. You won’t get a cent.”

($1 = 0.8539 euros)

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels and Anna Koper in Warsaw; additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw and Jason Hovet in Prague; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Porter and Jan Harvey)

Poland, Lithuania call for EU help with migration surge at Belarusian border

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland and Lithuania on Friday called on European institutions to help them deal with a surge in illegal migration from Belarus over their borders, as tensions between EU countries and Minsk continues to grow.

On Thursday Poland accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw’s decision this week to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics.

“We condemn the weaponization of irregular migration by the Lukashenko regime with a goal of exerting political pressure on the EU and its individual Member States,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonytr said in a joint statement.

In the past two days alone 133 illegal migrants were stopped at the Belarusian border with Poland, compared to 122 during the whole of last year, a spokesperson for the Poland Border Guard said.

In recent weeks, Lithuania has also reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus and said Minsk was flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday accused Lithuania and Poland of fueling the migrant issue on the border.

In the statement, Poland and Lithuania appealed to the European Commission, Frontex, EASO, other EU member states, and partners outside the EU for political and practical support and called to strengthen EU migration and asylum policy.

“We firmly believe that the protection of external Schengen borders is not just the duty of individual member states but also the common responsibility of the EU,” the statement says.

European Union home affairs ministers and representatives of the EU border agency Frontex and Europol are set to discuss the issue on Aug. 18, a letter by Slovenia to EU diplomats seen by Reuters showed.

(Reporting by Alicja Ptak and Anna Wlodarczak-semczuk; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Poland says Belarus lets migrants cross border in ‘hybrid war’ with EU

WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw’s decision this week to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics.

A deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik, said on Thursday that Minsk was “waging a hybrid war with the European Union with the help of illegal immigrants.”

In recent weeks, neighbor and fellow EU member state Lithuania has reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus and said Minsk was flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them into the EU.

“There are both young men and women with children. Belarus is using these immigrants as a living weapon,” Wasik told online broadcaster Telewizja wPolsce.

“In recent days we have seen an increase (in migrants). We treat it as a reaction to the granting of asylum to the Belarusian sprinter.”

Tsimanouskaya’s Cold War-style defection has ratcheted up Western tensions with Minsk at a time when the EU has accused President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants to hit back against EU sanctions.

Officials in the Belarusian government could not immediately be reached for comment.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday accused Lithuania and Poland of fueling the migrant issue on the border, saying Lithuania wanted to drive migrants into Belarusian territory by force.

Belarus in May decided to let migrants enter Lithuania in retaliation for EU sanctions meted out after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil and arrested a dissident blogger who was on board.

Lukashenko at the time said Belarus would not become a “holding site” for migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

The Polish Border Guard told Reuters it had detained a group of 71 migrants on the border with Belarus during the night from Wednesday to Thursday and another group of 62, mostly Iraqis, on Wednesday.

That is more that the total of 122 illegal migrants the Border Guard said were detained along the frontier in the whole of last year. Last month, 242 migrants were intercepted.

Wasik said migrants arriving recently had mainly been from Iraq but also from Afghanistan.

The interior ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The EU has summoned the Belarusian envoy in Brussels and held talks with the Iraqi government over the issue of illegal migration to the bloc.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw, Matthias Williams in London, writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by William Maclean, Mark Heinrich and Steve Orlofsky)

Iran begins process of making enriched uranium metal; U.S., E3 dismayed

By Francois Murphy, Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed

VIENNA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Iran has begun the process of producing enriched uranium metal, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Tuesday, a move that could help it develop a nuclear weapon and that three European powers said threatened talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Iran’s steps, which were disclosed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and which Tehran said were aimed at developing fuel for a research reactor, also drew criticism from the United States, which called them an “unfortunate step backwards.”

U.S. and European officials made clear that Iran’s decision would complicate, and potentially torpedo, indirect U.S.-Iranian talks seeking to bring both nations back into compliance with the 2015 deal, which was abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The deal imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program to make it harder for Tehran to develop fissile material for nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. After Trump withdrew, Iran began violating many of its restrictions.

Tehran has already produced a small amount of uranium metal this year that was not enriched. That is a breach of the deal, which bans all work on uranium metal since it can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb.

“Today, Iran informed the Agency that UO2 (uranium oxide) enriched up to 20% U–235 would be shipped to the R&D laboratory at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Esfahan, where it would be converted to UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) and then to uranium metal enriched to 20% U–235, before using it to manufacture the fuel,” an IAEA statement said.

A confidential IAEA report seen by Reuters said the agency had confirmed that Iran had taken the second of the four steps described, making clear it has begun the process.

Britain, France and Germany said on Tuesday they had “grave concern” about Iran’s decision, which violates the nuclear deal formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they said in a joint statement issued by Britain’s foreign ministry.

“With its latest steps, Iran is threatening a successful outcome to the Vienna talks despite the progress achieved in six rounds of negotiations,” they said, and urged Iran to return to the talks, which began in April and adjourned on June 20. No date has been set for a next round.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Washington was not setting a deadline for the talks but noted “that as time proceeds Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of returning to the JCPOA.”

Price said the United States found it “worrying” that Iran was continuing to violate the agreement “especially with experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research.

“It’s another unfortunate step backwards for Iran,” he said.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis in Washington and by David Milliken in London; Writing by Francois Murphy and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Goodman and Sonya Hepinstall)

EU, U.S. to end steel tariffs, urge progress into COVID origins, summit draft says

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union and the United States are set to commit at a summit in Brussels next week to ending their transatlantic trade disputes, and to call for progress on a new study into the origins of COVID-19, according to a draft communique.

The seven-page draft, seen by Reuters, aims to show concrete results of the “new dawn” hailed by EU leaders when U.S. President Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump in January.

The draft, which was discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, commits to ending a long-running dispute over subsidies to aircraft makers before July 11, and to lifting steel tariffs imposed three years ago by December.

Despite pressure by U.S. steel industry groups to keep the “Section 232” national security tariffs imposed by Trump, the draft said: “We commit to work towards lifting before 1 December 2021 all additional/punitive tariffs on both sides linked to our steel and aluminum dispute.”

Biden will meet the European Union’s chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen, and European Council President Charles Michel, who represents EU governments, and will also pledge to promote international cooperation to tackle global warming.

The EU and the United States are the world’s top trading powers, along with China, but Trump sought to sideline the EU.

After scotching a free-trade agreement with the EU, the Trump administration focused on shrinking a growing U.S. deficit in goods trade. Biden, however, sees the EU as an ally in promoting free trade, as well as fighting climate change and ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID ORIGINS

At the Brussels summit, both sides will agree to cooperate on China policy and also call for a new study into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the draft said.

“We call for progress on a transparent, evidence-based and expert-led WHO-convened phase 2 study on the origins of COVID-19, that is free from interference,” the draft said.

The two prevailing theories are that the virus jumped from animals, possibly bats, to humans, or that it escaped from a virology laboratory in Wuhan. Members of a WHO team that visited China this year to investigate COVID-19’s origin said they were not given access to all data, fueling the debate.

However, EU diplomats made it clear that the EU’s support to Biden on the virus origins is mostly symbolic.

“We, the EU, are not going to launch our own probe,” one EU diplomat said. “We are not anti-China”.

“The EU doesn’t have intelligence services, and we are not going to try to do this origins search through our member states agencies,” a second EU diplomat said. “The Americans can still talk to European services in member states, but we are not going to get involved.”

Despite the caveats, if agreed the joint stance on China will be a boost for the Biden administration, which seeks friends to stand up to Beijing but has said it will not force any ally to choose sides.

In a concession to the EU, the draft makes no mention of Biden’s proposals for vaccine patent waivers to boost global production. Instead it pledges to reduce U.S. export restrictions and promote voluntary transfer of technologies.

But the task of fully inoculating the world is expected to be a long one. The text says that the United States and the EU “aspire to vaccinate at least two-thirds of the world’s population by the end of 2022”. In other words, as many as 2.5 billion people in the world may not get a shot before 2023.

EU states have until now tried to maintain a strategic balance that avoids alienating either China or the United States.

But China’s military expansion, its claims to sovereignty in most of the South China Sea, and the mass detentions of Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China have shifted the mood in Brussels.

“We intend to closely consult and cooperate on the full range of issues in the framework of our respective similar multi-faceted approaches to China, which include elements of cooperation, competition, and systemic rivalry,” the draft said.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Italy lifts COVID quarantine for EU, UK and Israel from Sunday

ROME (Reuters) -Italy will scrap mandatory quarantine from Sunday for visitors from the European Union, Britain and Israel who test negative for COVID-19, the government said on Friday as it looks to give summer tourism a boost.

With vaccine roll-outs picking up pace in the EU, more countries are looking to ease travel curbs and restrictions on the hospitality sector to help it recover from the pandemic.

“We have been waiting for this move for a long time and it anticipates a Europe-wide travel pass,” Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia.

The EU plans to start a unified system recording COVID-19 vaccinations, tests and recovery from June to allow more movement.

People entering Italy from these countries have so far been requested to quarantine for five days and test both before arrival as well as at the end of their isolation period.

Quarantine for other countries, including the United States, is longer.

Entry restrictions on those coming from Brazil will remain in place, the health ministry said.

The government also extended the so-called COVID-tested flights to cover some destinations in Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. There will be no quarantine for those who test negative upon arrival on these routes, as well as on certain flights to Rome, Milan, Naples and Venice.

Although asked to supply a negative swab before travelling, passengers of these flights will be tested upon arrival and, if negative, exempted from quarantine.

Travel between Italy and much the rest of the world has been severely restricted for months as the government sought to contain resurgent coronavirus infections.

However, cases have declined steadily in recent weeks thanks in part to an increasingly effective vaccination campaign.

The national health institute (ISS) said on Friday the “R” reproduction number had fallen to 0.86 from 0.89 a week earlier. An “R” rate above 1 indicates that infections will grow exponentially.

Italy has recorded nearly 124,000 deaths due to coronavirus, the second-highest number in Europe after Britain. As of Monday, 19 of Italy’s 20 regions will be designated as “low-infection” zones and only one as a “medium-risk” one.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government is also due to discuss on Monday easing or abolishing Italy’s nationwide 10 p.m. curfew.

(Reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia and Angelo Amante, editing by Giulia Segreti and Gabriela Baczynska)

Death toll from Colombia protests rises; U.N., EU call for calm

By Oliver Griffin and Luis Jaime Acosta

BOGOTA (Reuters) – The United Nations and European Union on Tuesday urged calm and warned of the use of excessive force amid further protests against the administration of Colombian President Ivan Duque, while local authorities in epicenter Cali reported a further five deaths and 33 injuries.

The protests – originally called in opposition to a now-canceled tax reform – have become a broad cry for action against poverty and what demonstrators and some advocacy groups say is police violence.

The western city of Cali has become the focus of protests since they began almost a week ago and is the site of 11 of the 19 deaths confirmed by the Andean country’s human rights ombudsman on Monday.

The national police has said it will investigate more than two dozen allegations of brutality, while the defense minister has alleged illegal armed groups are infiltrating the protests to cause violence.

“Preliminarily what we know is there were five people killed (and …) 33 injured,” Carlos Rojas, security secretary of Cali told journalists on Tuesday, referring to the night before.

Some 87 people have been reported missing nationally since the protests started, according to the human rights ombudsman.

Intermittent road blockades are delaying shipments out of key Pacific port Buenaventura, according to local authorities.

The United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged calm and warned of police shootings.

“We are deeply alarmed at developments in the city of Cali in Colombia overnight, where police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against tax reforms,” spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a Tuesday statement.

The European Union also called for security forces to avoid a heavy-handed response.

Protests have so far led to the withdrawal of the original reform and the resignation of Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla.

Duque has said his government will draw up another proposal – the result of consultations with lawmakers, civil society and businesses.

New Finance Minister Jose Manuel Restrepo will need to convince Colombians, many of whom have seen their incomes battered by coronavirus lockdowns, that reform is vital, former Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas told the Reuters Global Markets Forum on Tuesday.

Restrepo “has a huge challenge ahead” Cardenas said.

Anger over long-standing inequalities in the nation of 50 million was a theme of 2019 protests, while police brutality was a focus at 2020 demonstrations.

Major unions, which are planning national marches again on Wednesday, say the government has not lived up to promises of dialogue with civil society.

Marchers on Wednesday will call for a basic income guarantee, the withdrawal of a government health reform proposal and the dissolution of the ESMAD riot police.

Duque has offered military assistance to protect infrastructure and guarantee access to essential services, though mayors of cities including Bogota and Medellin said it was unnecessary.

(Reporting by Oliver Griffin and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb, Alistair Bell)

Exclusive: EU denies blocking 3.1 million AstraZeneca shots to Australia

By Colin Packham

CANBERRA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union on Tuesday denied blocking shipments of 3.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to Australia, as the bloc steps up scrutiny of vaccine exports to address shortages.

An Australian government source told Reuters that the EU had blocked 3.1 million shots and the country had little hope of getting the remaining 400,000 doses it has been promised on time.

The dispute underscores massive shortfalls of the AstraZeneca shot across the EU and complicates Australia’s inoculation campaign, which is more than 80% behind its original schedule.

“We cannot confirm any new decision to block vaccine exports to Australia or to any other country,” a European Commission spokesman told a news conference.

A Commission spokeswoman said the bloc had rejected only one of 491 COVID-19 vaccine export requests since it enhanced export transparency in late January, but added that seven requests were currently being reviewed – and therefore shipments were on hold until a decision was made.

She declined to say whether a new shipment to Australia was among those being reviewed. But an EU official said there was no request for export to Australia under review.

The only rejected request out of nearly 500 received has been so far a shipment of 250,000 doses to Australia in March. From Jan 30 to March 24, the EU exported 1 million doses to Australia, the Commission said in a press release.

The EU has repeatedly said that AstraZeneca may not be allowed to export from the EU until it fulfils its contractual obligations towards the bloc, a position that has led the company to refrain from submitting some export requests.

AstraZeneca did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Tuesday.

With inoculation rollouts running far behind those of Britain and the United States, the EU tightened its oversight of vaccine exports last month, giving it greater scope to block shipments. “They’ve blocked 3.1 million shots so far,” said the Australian government source, adding that it had only received 300,000 doses and a further 400,000 doses were scheduled to arrive by the end of April.

“We haven’t given up hope but we’ve stopped counting them in our expected supplies,” the source said. The person declined to be named because he is not authorized to talk about the matter.

WELL BEHIND SCHEDULE

Australia had until Tuesday only confirmed the block of 250,000 AstraZeneca doses from the EU, which Canberra said then would not delay its inoculation timetable.

An EU official said it was not responsible for AstraZeneca’s failure in upholding commitments to other countries. The drug maker aims to deliver only 100 million doses to the bloc by the end of June out of 300 million it had pledged.

It is unclear whether Australia plans to ask Britain or the United States to ship AstraZeneca doses.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday the missing shipments were responsible for it not meeting its inoculation schedule. “In early January, we anticipated we would have the 3.1 million vaccines. Those vaccines were not supplied to Australia,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “That is the reason.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine arriving from Europe were to underpin the early stages of Australia’s vaccine drive, supplementing 50 million shots of the vaccine that will be produced locally by CSL Ltd.

Australia has recorded just 909 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began and said on Tuesday it would launch a quarantine and COVID-testing free travel bubble with New Zealand this month after effectively eradicating the virus by closing borders last year.

Australia’s vaccine program is running well behind schedule, having started much later than some other countries due to the low case numbers, and the AstraZeneca blockages leave it struggling to step up the pace.

Only about 670,000 people have been inoculated against an initial target of 4 million by end-March.

While the government blamed the slow rollout for supply issues from Europe, Australian state governments have also complained about slower-than-expected distribution and a lack of certainty on supplies.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Renju Jose; Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Nick Macfie and John Stonestreet)

EU official urges Greece to investigate asylum-seeker pushbacks

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece “can do more” to investigate allegations that it is pushing asylum-seekers, including children, back to Turkey, the European Union’s top migration official said on Monday.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has said it has received a growing number of reports in recent months suggesting asylum-seekers may have been pushed back to Turkey at sea or immediately after reaching Greek soil, or left adrift at sea.

Greek officials have always rejected the reports.

“I am very concerned about the UNHCR report and there are some specific cases that I really think need to be looked into closer,” Ylva Johansson, the EU’s home affairs commissioner, said during a visit to the island of Lesbos.

“I think the Greek authorities can do more when it comes to investigating these alleged pushbacks.”

Greek Minister Notis Mitarachi, speaking at a news conference with Johansson, said Greece adhered to European and international law.

“We strongly deny that the Greek coast guard has ever been involved in pushbacks,” he said.

“We understand we are causing a loss of tens of millions of euros to smuggling networks, and that could have played a role in the kind of fake news we hear about the Greek coast guard,” he said.

Mitarachi said independent investigations, including by the Greek judiciary and by the EU’s border agency Frontex, had not found violations.

In 2015 Greece, and Lesbos in particular, was at the frontline of Europe’s refugee crisis with nearly a million people, mostly Syrians fleeing war, arriving by boat from Turkey.

Numbers have decreased dramatically since the EU struck a deal with Ankara a year later and just over 16,000 people arrived in Greece last year, according to U.N. data.

Mitarachi said about 14,000 migrants were currently in camps on five islands, down from about 42,000 in 2019. About 58,000 were in camps across Greece, down from 92,000 in 2019.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Myanmar junta blames protesters as EU, U.S. impose sanctions

(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military accused anti-junta protesters of arson and violence as Western countries imposed more sanctions on individuals and groups linked to last month’s coup and the ensuing bloody crackdown on dissent.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 164 protesters had been killed in the violence and expressed sadness at the deaths.

“They are also our citizens,” he told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday, adding that the military would use the least force possible to quell violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says at least 261 people have been killed in the brutal crackdown by security forces that has left the Southeast Asian nation in turmoil.

Three people including a teenage boy were killed in unrest on Monday in Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, witnesses and news reports said.

The junta has tried to justify the coup by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent – an accusation the electoral commission rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.

Zaw Min Tun blamed protesters for violence and arson and said nine members of the security forces had been killed.

“Can we call these peaceful protesters?” he said, while showing a video of factories on fire. “Which country or organization would regard this violence as peaceful?”

He said strikes and hospitals not fully operating had caused deaths, including from COVID-19, calling them “undutiful and unethical”.

The spokesman also accused media of “fake news” and fanning unrest and said reporters could be prosecuted if they were in contact with the CRPH, as the remnants of Suu Kyi’s government is known locally. The military has declared the CRPH an illegal organization and said membership is punishable by death.

In the over three hour news conference, the spokesman also said the military respected the media and although reporting protests was allowed, leading them was a crime.

Zaw Min Tun gave granular details or how the NLD had created hundreds or even thousands of extra ballots in numerous townships by inventing voters, including in Suu Kyi’s own constituency. Videos of people saying they were paid by NLD representatives were shown at the news conference.

Also shown was video testimony of former Yangon chief minister Phyo Min Thein saying he visited Suu Kyi multiple times and gave her money “whenever needed.”

Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup. Her lawyer says charges against her are trumped up.

‘UNBEARABLE EXTENT’

The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Monday against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators.

The EU sanctions were the bloc’s most significant response since the overthrow of Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.

The 11 people it targeted included General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military and head of the junta that has taken power.

The EU already has an arms embargo on Myanmar and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters before the meeting that the military repression “has reached an unbearable extent”.

Washington had already sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing and the measures announced on Monday expanded the list.

There was no immediate response from the junta, which has shown no sign so far of being swayed by international condemnation of its actions.

Myanmar’s neighbors are also speaking out against the violence, which is rare for countries in the region.

“We believe violence against unarmed civilians is inexcusable,” Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Kuala Lumpur after talks with his Malaysian counterpart.

“We still believe there should be no external interference in the domestic affairs of a country, but to the maximum extent possible…we stand ready to do our best to support the people of Myanmar who in fact deserve so much better in the future.”

The junta said it is cooperating with five neighboring countries – Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand – and values and respects their words, plus any countries that respect the stability of Myanmar.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)