Winter is coming EU prepares for worst case Energy Crisis

Revelations 18:23:’For the merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.’

Important Takeaways:

  • EU could face blackouts this winter, crisis commissioner warns
  • The European Union could face blackouts this winter as the continent faces an ongoing energy crisis amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, but Brussels is preparing for worst-case scenarios, according to EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič.

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U.S., Russia set for Jan 10 security talks amid Ukraine tensions

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) -U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks on Jan. 10 to discuss concerns about their respective military activity and confront rising tensions over Ukraine, the two countries said.

A spokesperson for U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced the date late on Monday, and said Russia and NATO were also likely to hold talks on Jan. 12, with a broader meeting including Moscow, Washington and other European countries set for Jan. 13.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed those dates on Tuesday and said he hoped the talks with the United States in Geneva would start a process that would give Moscow new security guarantees from the West.

Such guarantees are a longstanding demand of Moscow, which alarmed the West by massing tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine in the past two months following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting Kyiv troops in eastern Ukraine.

The European Union demanded a say in any security deal.

“Any discussion about European security must happen in coordination with and participation of EU,” said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell after talking to British foreign minister Liz Truss.

The Jan. 12 NATO meeting would be held in EU hub Brussels, Ryabkov said, while the Jan. 13 talks would involve the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states.

CONCERNS ON THE TABLE

Russia has denied plans for an assault on Ukraine but says it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.

Moscow, worried by what it says is the West’s re-arming of Ukraine, has said it wants legally-binding guarantees NATO will not expand further eastwards, and that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to Ukraine or other neighboring countries.

The U.S. administration has threatened to impose economic sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine. It says it cannot promise a sovereign state such as Ukraine would never join NATO.

“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well,” said the spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, who declined to be identified. The spokesperson said no decisions would be made about Ukraine without Ukraine.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States would keep the Harry Truman carrier in Europe for now rather than sending it to the Middle East.

The official said there were no plans to move it closer to Ukraine and despite the Russian troop buildup, there was still no U.S. warship in the Black Sea.

Biden on Monday signed into law a spending bill that, among other things, will provide $300 million for an initiative supporting Ukraine’s armed forces and billions more for European defense broadly.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist uprising in the east of Ukraine resulted in Kyiv losing control of a swath of territory in a conflict it says killed 15,000 people.

Major combat ended with a ceasefire in 2015, but deadly clashes still take place regularly.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Olzhas Auyezov, Idrees Ali and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Michael Perry, Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan)

U.S., partners take punitive action against Belarus

By Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday imposed restrictions on dealings in new issuances of Belarusian sovereign debt and expanded sanctions on the country, targeting dozens of individuals and entities in an action coordinated with partners including the EU.

Washington increased pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, targeting the country’s defense, security and potash sectors as well as officials and Lukashenko’s son in the move aimed at making Belarus accountable for allegedly orchestrating a migrant crisis in Europe.

The action was coordinated with Canada, Britain and the European Union. In a joint statement the group called on Lukashenko’s government to immediately and completely halt its orchestrating of irregular migration across its borders with the EU.

“Those, in Belarus or in third countries, who facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know this comes at a substantial cost,” the statement said.

The action came as East-West tensions have risen over the refugee crisis on the borders between Belarus, a Russian ally, and Poland and Lithuania.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it would retaliate against the EU sanctions. In a statement, it said: “The goal of this policy is to economically strangle Belarus, to complicate and worsen the life of Belarusians.”

“As a response, as we have previously said, we will take harsh, asymmetrical but adequate measures.”

It did not immediately comment on the action from the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued a directive restricting Americans from transacting in, provision of and other dealings in new Belarusian sovereign debt with a maturity greater than 90 days issued on or after Thursday by the country’s finance ministry or Development Bank.

POTASH SECTOR

Washington also imposed sanctions on Belarus’s state-owned tourism company, Republican Unitary Enterprise Tsentrkurort, and seven Belarusian government officials over the migrant crisis.

EU countries have accused Belarus of creating a migrant standoff nL1N2SM0RR on the bloc’s eastern borders by encouraging thousands from the Middle East and Africa to try to cross into Poland and Lithuania, in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk.

Lukashenko denies doing so and pins the blame for the crisis on the EU.

Rights groups say at least 13 people have died as migrants have camped in freezing conditions at the border.

Entities related to the potash sector were also blacklisted on Thursday. Britain targeted one of the world’s largest potash fertilizer producers, Belaruskali, while Washington imposed sanctions on several entities in an effort to limit the financial benefits Lukashenko’s government derives from potash exports.

Washington had already blacklisted the state-run Belaruskali in August, but added its exporting arm, the Belarus Potash Company, and another potash producer, Slavkali. Shares of global potash producers rose on Thursday following the announcement.

The U.S. Treasury issued a general license, authorizing activities necessary for the wind-down of transactions involving the Belarusian Potash Company or its subsidiary, Agrorozkvit LLC, until April 1.

Belarus Potash Company did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

DEFENSE FIRMS

Washington also blacklisted state-owned cargo carrier Transaviaexport Airlines, which it accused of shipping thousands of tons of ammunition and weapons to foreign conflict zones such as Libya, and two of its aircraft, as well as five entities that produce or export defense materials.

The defense firms listed included the makers of riot control barriers and armored vehicles that were deployed against demonstrators protesting the August 2020 election, a surveillance system maker and the state weapons exporter that provides cash for the government.

Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official now with the Atlantic Council, said Thursday’s move helped the United States catch up with previous European Union action while also leaving “significant” room for escalation, giving Washington leverage to continue to pressure Minsk.

“This is exactly what you want to see out of the U.S. It’s a big action, it will have lots of impact, and there’s still lots of head room,” he said.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Polina Devitt in Moscow; Robin Emmott in Brussels and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Frances Kerry)

 

Britain outlaws Palestinian militant group Hamas -interior minister

By Stephen Farrell and Alistair Smout

JERUSALEM/LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s interior minister Priti Patel on Friday said she had banned the Palestinian militant group Hamas in a move that brings the UK’s stance on Gaza’s rulers in line with the United States and the European Union.

“Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities,” Patel said in a statement.

“That is why today I have acted to proscribe Hamas in its entirety.”

The organization would be banned under the Terrorism Act and anyone expressing support for Hamas, flying its flag or arranging meetings for the organization would be in breach of the law, the interior ministry confirmed. Patel is expected to present the change to parliament next week.

Hamas has political and military wings. Founded in 1987, it opposes the existence of Israel and peace talks, instead advocating “armed resistance” against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Until now Britain had banned only its military arm — the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Hamas political official Sami Abu Zuhri said Britain’s move showed “absolute bias toward the Israeli occupation and is a submission to Israeli blackmail and dictations”.

“Resisting occupation by all available means, including armed resistance, is a right granted to people under occupation as stated by the international law,” said Hamas in a separate statement.

The Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom, which represents President Mahmoud Abbas’s Western-backed Palestinian Authority, also condemned the move.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the decision, saying on Twitter: “Hamas is a terrorist organization, simply put. The ‘political arm’ enables its military activity.”

Hamas and Israel clashed most recently in a deadly 11-day conflict in May. During the second Palestinian uprising two decades ago, Hamas suicide bombers killed hundreds of Israelis, a campaign publicly backed by its political wing.

‘STRENGTHENING TIES’

In 2017 Patel was forced to resign as Britain’s international development secretary after she failed to disclose meetings with senior Israeli officials during a private holiday to the country, including then-opposition leader Yair Lapid.

Lapid, now Israel’s foreign minister, hailed the decision on Hamas as “part of strengthening ties with Britain”.

Hamas is on the U.S. list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. The European Union also deems it a terrorist movement.

Based in Gaza, Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, defeating its nationalist rival Fatah. It seized military control of Gaza the following year.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem and Aistair Smout in London; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Toby Chopra)

EU accuses Belarus of ‘gangster’ methods as migrants shiver at Polish border

By Alan Charlish and Felix Hoske

NAREWKA, Poland (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants huddled around forest campfires in freezing temperatures on Tuesday near the Belarus-Poland border where razor wire fences and Polish border guards blocked their entry into the European Union.

The EU vowed more sanctions against Belarus, accusing President Alexander Lukashenko of using “gangster-style” tactics in the months-long border stand-off in which at least seven migrants have died.

Poland and other EU member states accuse Belarus of encouraging the migrants – from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa – to illegally cross the frontier into the EU in revenge for sanctions slapped on Minsk over human rights abuses.

“The Belarusian regime is attacking the Polish border, the EU, in an unparalleled manner,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told a news conference in Warsaw.

“We currently have a camp of migrants who are blocked from the Belarusian side. There are about 1,000 people there, mostly young men. These are aggressive actions that we must repel, fulfilling our obligations as a member of the European Union.”

Reuters reporters saw Polish border guards detain a group of Iraqi Kurdish migrants in a forest on the Polish side of the border on Tuesday afternoon. Medics put Red Cross blankets around some of the migrants. One elderly woman could not walk.

NGO Grupa Granica (Border Group) said there were 16 migrants in the group, nine of them children. It said the group had been pushed back and forth between Polish and Belarusian border guards four times since they reached the border on Oct. 24.

“I ask for asylum in Poland,” read a message scrawled in English on a piece of paper held up by a middle-aged man.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiekci, who earlier visited Polish troops stationed at the border, said the migrants were being used by Belarus as part of “a new type of war in which people are used as human shields”.

Lukashenko’s government, which is backed by Russia, denies engineering the migrant crisis and blames Europe and the United States for the plight of the people stranded at the border.

It summoned Poland’s defense attaché on Tuesday to protest what it said were unfounded allegations about the involvement of Belarusian military personnel in the crisis.

‘BLACKMAIL’

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation by phone and expressed concern over the build-up of Polish troops at the border, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on Tuesday.

“To conduct a war with these unfortunate people on the border of Poland with Belarus and move forward columns of tanks – it’s clear this is either a training exercise or it’s blackmail,” Lukashenko said in televised comments.

“We will calmly stand up to this.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested the EU provide Belarus with financial assistance to stop the migrant flows, referencing an earlier such deal with Turkey.

The European Commission said around 2,000 migrants had now reached the border. Some could be seen milling around tents and campfires set up just beyond Poland’s barbed-wire barrier.

“This is part of the inhuman and really gangster-style approach of the Lukashenko regime that he is lying to people, he is misusing people…and bringing them to Belarus under the false promise of having easy entry into the EU,” a Commission spokesperson said.

EU governments partially suspended a visa facilitation deal for Belarusian officials.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR called for an end to the use of vulnerable people as political pawns.

‘DANGEROUS EVENTS’

A spokesman for Poland’s security services, Stanislaw Zaryn, said Belarusian security personnel were “firing empty shots into the air, simulating dangerous events”, while also providing tools to the migrants to help them destroy the border fence.

On Monday some migrants used spades and other implements to try to break down the fence.

Poland’s Border Guard recorded 309 illegal attempts to breach the frontier on Monday and detained 17 people, mainly Iraqis.

Lithuania also reported a surge in attempted migrant crossings and followed in Poland’s footsteps by declaring a state of emergency along its border with Belarus on Tuesday.

The move allows border guards to use “mental coercion” and “proportional physical violence” to stop the migrants.

The crisis erupted after Western powers slapped sanctions on Belarus over its violent crackdown on mass street protests that were sparked by Lukashenko’s disputed claim of victory in a presidential election in 2020.

Poland denies accusations by humanitarian groups that it is violating the international right to asylum by hustling migrants back into Belarus instead of accepting their applications for protection. Warsaw says its actions are legal.

“We can never be certain what will happen to people we offer help to in this forest because Polish authorities are breaking the law and the Geneva Convention,” Grupa Granica’s Jakub Sypianski said as Polish police detained migrants nearby.

A poll by IBRiS for Polish daily Rzeczpospolita this week showed 55% of Poles believe migrants who have illegally crossed the border should be sent back.

(Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz in Warsaw, Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Andrius Sytas in Kapciamiestis, Lithuania, Polina Devitt and Mark Trevelyan in Moscow; writing by Matthias Wiliams; editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

EU election observers begin work ahead of Venezuela regional, local vote

By Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) – European Union election observers began their mission in Venezuela on Thursday, as campaigning kicked off for regional elections next month which are set to include opposition candidates.

It is the first time in 15 years the EU has sent observers to Venezuela.

Opposition parties are participating in the Nov. 21 contest after boycotting presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018 and 2020 respectively, votes where they have alleged President Nicolas Maduro and his party notched illegitimate wins.

“The opposition is going to participate in these elections (…) we want to hear from everyone,” mission chief Isabel Santos told reporters before observers set out from capital Caracas to cities around the country.

More than 3,000 positions – including governors, mayors and municipal councilors – are up for grabs next month, according to Venezuela’s elections authority. Some 21 million voters are eligible to participate.

A total of 44 EU observers have arrived in Venezuela so far. They will work in 22 of the country’s 23 states, Santos said, adding no personnel will be sent to the Amazonas state due to transport difficulties and the coronavirus pandemic.

The observers will release a preliminary report two days after the vote, with the final report expected to take two months, said Santos, a member of the European Parliament from Portugal.

Observers will remain deployed across the country until Nov. 29.

The Carter Center, a U.S.-based advocacy group, also plans to send four international electoral experts to Venezuela in early November, it said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Britain calls for 800 foreign butchers to avoid pig cull

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain will offer six-month emergency visas to 800 foreign butchers to avoid a mass pig cull, it said on Thursday, after farmers complained that an exodus of workers from abattoirs and meat processors had left the pork sector fighting for survival.

A combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has sparked an exodus of east European workers, leaving some 120,000 pigs in barns and fields across the country waiting to be slaughtered, according to the National Pig Association.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the temporary visas would address the problem which farmers said was putting livelihoods at risk and causing animal welfare issues.

“What we’re going to do is allow butchers in abattoirs and meat processors dealing with pigs, to be able to come in on a temporary basis under the Seasonal Worker scheme for up to six months,” Eustice told reporters.

“That will help us to deal with the backlog of pigs that we currently have on farms to give those meat processors the ability to slaughter more pigs.”

Eustice said around 800 butchers would be needed to clear the backlog and announced private storage aid to help abattoirs store meat.

But he said the government had decided not to ease the English language requirement for skilled visas to allow more butchers to come via that route – a key demand from farmers, who have been calling for weeks for ministers to take action.

“The industry had asked us to look at the language requirement on the skills route,” he said. “We have looked at that but we don’t think that provides an answer to their particular challenge. And that’s why we decided instead to have temporary visas.”

The lack of butchers is just one of a number of areas where Britain is facing acute labor shortages.

Last month, it announced plans to issue temporary visas for 5,000 foreign truck drivers and 5,500 poultry workers, but the government wants businesses to invest in a British workforce rather than rely on cheap foreign labor.

Ministers have also been keen to downplay suggestions that Britain’s exit from the European Union was the main issue hitting labor in the supply chains.

Many workers in the pig industry had gone home during the pandemic and simply not returned, Eustice said.

“It’s a complex picture: there have been lots of market disruptions, problems with access to the Chinese market, maybe some overproduction – here production is up by about 7% – and yes, labor has been an aggravating factor but it’s not been the only factor,” Eustice said.

“The pig industry, and in common with many parts of the food industry, has seen a loss of staff as many of the EU citizens that they relied on left during the pandemic – nothing to do with Brexit.”

As part of the measures to address the problem with the lack of lorry drivers, he said cabotage rules for EU drivers would be relaxed so that they could do as many trips as they liked over a two-week period.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden and Nick Macfie)

EU to deploy election observation mission to Venezuela

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will send observers to regional elections in Venezuela scheduled for Nov. 21, on the invitation of the country’s National Electoral Council, the bloc’s foreign policy chief said in a statement on Wednesday.

“An unprecedented electoral process will take place, with the concurrence of the majority of political forces for the first time in recent years, to elect more than 3,000 regional and municipal representatives in Venezuela,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said.

“The EU Election Observation Mission will undertake an independent technical assessment of all aspects of the electoral process and will propose recommendations to improve future elections,” he said.

The vote comes after three years of opposition election boycotts and a failed U.S.-backed effort to force Socialist Party President Nicolas Maduro from power through sanctions and the creation of a parallel opposition-led government.

The regional elections are expected to pose little threat to Maduro’s control of Venezuela. He has hung on to power despite a breathtaking collapse of the country’s economy as well as the broad U.S. sanctions program meant to force him from power.

The EU will send 11 election experts who will arrive in Caracas in October and will be joined by the end of that month by up to 62 long-term observers who will be deployed in the country’s regions.

A further 34 EU short-term observers and 20 locally recruited ones will reinforce the mission on election day. The EU team will stay in Venezuela until the completion of the electoral process, the EU statement said.

The EU observers will issue a preliminary statement and hold a news conference in Caracas after the elections and will also issue a final report with recommendations for future elections after the finalization of the electoral process.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

EU says Taliban must respect rights, guarantee security as conditions for help

By Sabine Siebold

BRDO, Slovenia (Reuters) -The European Union is ready to engage with the new Taliban government in Kabul but the Islamist group must respect human rights, including those of women, and not let Afghanistan become a base for terrorism, the EU foreign policy chief said on Friday.

“In order to support the Afghan population, we will have to engage with the new government in Afghanistan,” Josep Borrell said during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Slovenia.

He described an “operational engagement,” which would not by itself constitute the formal recognition of the Taliban government, and would “increase depending on the behavior of this government”.

Borrell said the new government must prevent the country from again becoming a breeding ground for militants as it was during the Taliban’s previous time in power. It must respect human rights, the rule of law and freedom of the media, and should negotiate with other political forces on a transitional government.

The Taliban have yet to name a government more than two weeks since they swept back into power. Their 1996-2001 rule was marked by violent punishments and a ban on schooling or work for women and girls, and many Afghans and foreign governments fear a return to such practices. The militants say they have changed but have yet to spell out the rules they will enforce.

Borrell said the new government in Kabul must also grant free access to humanitarian aid, respecting EU procedures and conditions for delivery.

“We will increase humanitarian aid, but we will judge them according to the access they provide,” Borrell said.

Aid agencies have said Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian catastrophe amid an economic crisis brought on by the conflict, a drought and the COVID-19 pandemic. About 18 million Afghans – roughly half the population – are already in need of humanitarian help, according to EU experts.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it depended on the Taliban how swiftly frozen development aid – which is different from the unconditional humanitarian aid – can flow again.

“We have heard many moderate remarks in the past days, but we will measure the Taliban by their actions, not by their words,” Maas told reporters in Slovenia.

“We want to help avert a looming humanitarian crisis in the coming winter, which is why we have to act fast.”

According to Borrell, the EU aims to coordinate its contacts with the Taliban through a joint EU presence in Kabul, should security conditions make it safe to do so.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)

Taliban control 65% of Afghanistan, EU official says, after series of sudden gains

KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on captured Afghan territory on Tuesday as civilians hid in their homes, and a European Union official said the militants now control 65% of the country after a string of gains as foreign forces pull out.

President Ashraf Ghani called on regional strongmen to support his government, while a U.N. official said advances made in human rights in the 20 years since the hardline Islamists were ousted from power were in danger of being erased.

In the capital Kabul, Ghani’s aides said he was seeking help from regional militias he has squabbled with over the years to rally to the defense of his government. He had also appealed to civilians to defend Afghanistan’s “democratic fabric.”

In the town of Aibak, capital of Samangan province on the main road between the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, Taliban fighters were consolidating their control, moving into government buildings, residents said.

Most government security forces appeared to have withdrawn.

“The only way is self-imposed house arrest or to find a way to leave for Kabul,” said Sher Mohamed Abbas, a provincial tax officer, when asked about living conditions in Aibak.

“But then even Kabul is not a safe option anymore,” said Abbas, the sole bread winner for a family of nine.

Abbas said the Taliban had arrived at his office and told workers to go home. He and other residents said they had neither seen nor heard fighting on Tuesday.

For years, the north was the most peaceful part of the country with an only minimal Taliban presence.

The militants’ strategy appears to be to take the north, as well as the main border crossings in the north, west and south, and then close in on Kabul.

The Taliban, battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law, swept into Aibak on Monday meeting little resistance.

Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghan territory, are threatening to take 11 provincial capitals and are trying to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.

The government has withdrawn forces from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding major population centers, while officials have appealed for pressure on neighboring Pakistan to stop Taliban reinforcements and supplies flowing over the porous border. Pakistan denies backing the Taliban.

The United States has been carrying out air strikes in support of government troops but said it was up to Afghan forces to defend their country. “It’s their struggle,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.

‘DEEPLY DISTURBING REPORTS’

Taliban and government officials have confirmed that the Islamists have overrun six provincial capitals in recent days in the north, west and south.

Security forces in Pul-e-Khumri, capital of Baghlan province, to the southeast of Aibak, were surrounded as the Taliban closed in on the town at a main junction on the road to Kabul, a security official said.

Gulam Bahauddin Jailani, head of the national disaster authority, told Reuters there was fighting in 25 of the 34 provinces and 60,000 families had been displaced over the past two months, with most seeking refuge in Kabul.

About 400,000 Afghans have been displaced in recent months and there has been an increase in numbers of people fleeing to Iran over the past 10 days, the EU official said.

Six EU member states warned the bloc’s executive against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe despite major Taliban advances, fearing a possible replay of a 2015-16 crisis over the chaotic arrival of more than one million migrants, mainly from the Middle East.

A resident of Farah, the capital and largest city of Farah province in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, said the Taliban had taken the governor’s compound and there was heavy fighting between Taliban and government forces.

Civilians said the Taliban had captured all key government buildings in the city.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said reports of violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity were emerging, including “deeply disturbing reports” of the summary execution of surrendering government troops.

“People rightly fear that a seizure of power by the Taliban will erase the human rights gains of the past two decades,” she said.

The Taliban, ousted in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, appeared to be in a position to advance from different directions on Mazar-i-Sharif. Its fall would deal a devastating blow to Ghani’s government.

Atta Mohammad Noor, a northern militia commander, vowed to fight to the end, saying there would be “resistance until the last drop of my blood.”

“I prefer dying in dignity than dying in despair,” he said on Twitter.

India sent a flight to northern Afghanistan to take its citizens home, officials said, asking Indians to leave. The United States and Britain have already advised their citizens to leave Afghanistan.

The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces at the end of this month under a deal with the Taliban, which included the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan being used for international terrorism.

The Taliban promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdraw but did not agree to a ceasefire with the government.

(Reporting by Afganistan bureau, additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Sabine Siebold and John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)