The Latest: Serbia to lift embargo on Croatian goods

AP News
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Posted: Sep 25, 2015 5:47 PM
The Latest: Serbia to lift embargo on Croatian goods

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The latest developments as European governments struggle to cope with the huge number of people moving across Europe. All times local:

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11:45 p.m.

Hungary's interior ministry says it has removed spools of razor wire from a section of the border with Slovenia, a barrier that had been seen as breaching European Union rules about unrestricted travel within much of its territory.

The ministry said in a statement that the coils of razor wire had been installed earlier Friday "exclusively as an experimental task" but were later removed.

Unlike Serbia and Croatia, where Hungary has built 4-meter (13-feet) high fences to stop the uncontrolled entry of migrants, Slovenia is a member of the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

If Hungary decides to activate plans for a clampdown on the Croatian border similar to the one in place since Sept. 15 on the border with Serbia, Slovenia could become part of an alternate route for migrants trying to reach Germany and other richer EU countries.

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8:50 p.m.

Serbia's prime minister, speaking after an emergency government session, says Serbia will "absolutely" lift its embargo on Croatian goods.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic made the comments Friday night to Croatian state TV after Croatia decided to reopen its main cargo border crossing with Serbia. The two Balkan neighbors had feuded for a week over how to handle an enormous surge of migrants crossing their territories, and the closure of the border was costing each dearly.

Vucic said "the decision of Croatian government is good."

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he lifted the border blockade but warned he could reinstate it if Serbia keeps on busing migrants to the Croatian border instead of sending some of them to Hungary.

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6:05 p.m.

Serbian interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic has welcomed Croatia's decision to reopen the border between them.

He calls it "a great victory for all the citizens of Serbia."

The two states have traded accusations over how to manage the influx of asylum-seekers, imposing border restrictions on cargo and civilian crossings.

EU officials had called on Croatia to lift the blockade that has cost the two states millions of dollars.

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5:25 p.m.

Croatia has lifted its blockade of the border with Serbia after a spat between the longtime Balkan rivals over a migrant surge.

Croatian police said Friday the border is now open "to all traffic without restrictions."

The two nations had traded accusations over how to manage the tens of thousands of migrants crossing their territories to get to Western Europe, imposing border restrictions on cargo and civilian crossings.

EU officials had urged Croatia to lift the blockade that has cost the two nations millions of dollars.

Croatia has accused Serbia of busing migrants to its border instead of channeling them north to Hungary.

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4:55 p.m.

Hungary says the razor-wire it has placed on the Slovenia border is only temporary.

The government spokesman says no permanent fence — like the 4-meter (13-foot) high one it built on the border with Serbia — will be built on the Slovenian border since both Hungary and Slovenia belong to Europe's Schengen passport-free travel zone.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters Friday that Hungary would not put anything on that border that can't be "cleaned up" within a day.

Slovenian media said Hungary was already removing some of the barbed-wire fence, although it was also erecting new concertina wire around the Pince border crossing in northeast Slovenia.

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3:55 p.m.

European Union President Donald Tusk says discussions at a recent summit were "very frank, sometimes brutal."

Tusk says "many countries had something unpleasant to say to the other countries" but didn't name any.

He added that a "thread of understanding" was emerging as the leaders abandoned mutual recriminations and started to think together about how to help the refugees while "protecting Europe from an excessive wave."

Tusk spoke on Poland's state TVP Info following the EU summit that decided to toughen border controls and provide more funds to help refugees in the Middle East.

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3:35 p.m.

A European Union official has called on Croatia to lift its blockade of the border with Serbia which has strained relations between the two Balkan states that are struggling with the surge of migrants moving toward Western Europe.

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said Friday that the problem between Croatia and Serbia can be solved only with Croatia reopening its border.

Croatia accuses Serbia of busing the migrants to Croatia's border rather than channeling them further north to Hungary.

To protest Croatia's decision to close the border to cargo, Serbia has banned imports from Croatia. Croatia responded by banning all Serbian-registered vehicles from entering the country.

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2:55 p.m.

The migrant crisis is becoming part of Poland's fall election campaign.

An aide to Poland's president says the government has failed to postpone a European Union decision obliging Poland to accept thousands of refugees.

The foreign policy adviser, Krzysztof Szczerski, said Friday that at EU meetings this week, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz's government failed to "put off indefinitely" a decision committing Poland to accept 7,000 refugees in 2016 and 2017.

Conservative President Andrzej Duda and Kopacz's centrist government are battling each other to find support ahead of the country's Oct. 25 election.

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2:20 p.m.

Slovenia's foreign minister says his government was surprised by Hungary's decision to build a razor-wire fence on the border between the two European Union-member states.

Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec says Friday that Slovenia was not informed in advance of Hungary's move and that the fence was "not necessary." Both nations are part of the EU's passport-free Schengen travel zone where people are supposed to be able to cross borders freely.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Friday the Slovenian border is meant to "block direct detours" by migrants trying to avoid fences on Hungary's borders with Serbia and Croatia. Hungary is the most direct way to reach Western Europe.

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1:10 p.m.

German officials say almost a third of asylum seekers arriving in the country who claim to be Syrian are not.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come to Germany since the start of the year seeking refuge from poverty, persecution and war.

Germany has said it will temporarily refrain from sending Syrians back to other European Union countries they have traveled through, as would normally be possible under EU rules.

This has been interpreted by some as Germany giving special preference to people from Syria, who make up the largest single group of asylum seekers.

Tobias Plate, a spokesman for Germany's interior ministry, said Friday that it's estimated that "30 percent of asylum seekers claiming to be Syrian in the end aren't Syrian."

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1:05 p.m.

European Union President Donald Tusk says Europe might need a Border Guard to protect its outside borders from an "excessive wave" of migrants which could be a threat to its internal open borders system.

Tusk spoke on Polish state TVP Info late Thursday, hours after an EU summit decided to toughen border controls and offer more money to refugees in Middle East as ways of coping with the migration crisis in Europe.

Calling for a "very serious, quick talk" about whether a European Border Guard might be needed, Tusk said that without border control, "we have no migration policy but rather total chaos."

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12:55p.m.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann's office says Faymann and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have agreed day-to-day cooperation is necessary to manage the flow of migrants through the two countries.

The office of the center-left chancellor emphasized Europe has common standards for accommodating, taking care of and processing asylum seekers that need to be respected.

Meanwhile, Austria's conservative vice chancellor called for better sharing of information on the arrival of migrants at the Austrian border.

Reinhold Mitterlehner's office said that Hungary is protecting its external border with the fence on the Serbian frontier and that must be respected, according to a statement. He described the fence on the Croatian border as a bilateral matter between Hungary and Croatia.

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12:30 p.m.

Hungary's prime minister says he will hold consultations with other countries in the region and with the United Nations before making a decision about closing the border with Croatia for migrants.

Viktor Orban said Friday in Vienna that he will seek support for the fence and once the other countries are prepared, Hungary will enforce rules which guarantee the ways of crossing the Croatian-Hungarian border "are in line with European Union law."

Orban, who spoke after meeting with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, has earlier said he expects the fence being built on the border with Croatia to be completed within days.

Orban also indicated that Faymann opposed the idea of opening up a transit corridor for migrants from the Hungarian-Croatian border toward Austria and Germany.

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11:45 a.m.

Finland's government says it strongly condemns "racist protests against asylum-seekers" after a protester met asylum seekers dressed in Ku Klux Klan-like attire.

In a joint statement on Friday, the leaders of the country's three-party government coalition said Finland is an "open and tolerant country" where the population is "positive toward immigrants."

The statement came after asylum-seekers arriving at a refugee center north of Helsinki were met by protesters, including the person wearing a white robe and pointy hat, and others who fired fireworks and sounded loud horns.

The government includes the populist, EU-skeptic Finns Party that has been calling for tougher immigration laws, though it has distanced itself from Europe's far-right parties.

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11:15 a.m.

An EU official is touring a migrant camp near Serbia's border with Croatia amid boiling tensions between the two Balkan rivals struggling with the influx of tens of thousands of people moving toward Western Europe.

The Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn arrived to the border zone Friday together with Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

Ahead of his visit, Hahn has praised "Serbia's competent and resilient management of the refugee crisis." He said "the EU stands by Serbia in this pan-European crisis which can be solved only with a common approach."

Croatia has said it was overwhelmed and has accused Serbia of sending the migrants in its direction. The two countries have slammed each other with border closures and traffic blockades.

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11:05 a.m.

Former Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a renowned Euro-skeptic, says a nationwide referendum or early election should be called over a European Union decision to redistribute 120,000 asylum-seekers in member states.

The decision was approved by EU ministers this week despite opposition from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

Slovakia is planning to challenge that but the Czech government said it would respect it.

Klaus says the government has no mandate for that because it is "an extraordinary situation that threatens the sovereignty of our country."

He told Czech public television late Thursday that he is starting consultations with major parties as well other political groups over the issue.

Earlier this month, Klaus launched a petition which said mass immigration is a fundamental threat to Europe and called on the government to reject the migrant quotas.

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10:55 a.m.

Asylum-seekers arriving in Finland have been met by protesters firing fireworks and sounding loud horns, and at least one person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan-like white robe and pointed hat.

Finnish broadcasters showed how the bus with the new arrivals was escorted by police as it approached a refugee center north of Helsinki early Friday.

State broadcaster YLE said the roughly 40 asylum-seekers were met by up to 40 protesters. It was unclear if any arrests were made.

Some 500 people formed a symbolic human wall Saturday in the northern Finland border town of Tornio to protest against the arrival of migrants from Sweden. No incidents were reported.

Up to 30,000 asylum-seekers are expected in the Nordic country this year, compared to 3,651 last year.

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10:40 a.m.

Croatian police say some 55,000 migrants have crossed into the country from Serbia since last Wednesday when the first groups started arriving.

Police say the numbers include people who came in by early hours on Friday, but that many more were expected to arrive overnight. Police say 8,500 people crossed into Croatia in one day on Thursday.

The UN estimates that 80 percent of the people entering Europe through the Balkans are fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The other 20 percent are from places including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burundi and Sub-Saharan African.

They turned to Croatia after Hungary on Sept. 15 used tear gas and water cannons to drive them away from its border with Serbia. Croatia has been shipping the migrants to its borders with Hungary and Slovenia.

The migration crisis has fueled tensions in the Balkans, with rival countries Serbia and Croatia slamming each other with border closures and traffic blockades.

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10:10 a.m.

Hungary's government spokesman says the fence being built on the border with Croatia to stop migrants from entering is nearly finished.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Friday on state radio that Hungary doesn't want to close the border, but wants "to protect the border of the European Union." He said the possibility of legal entry would be left open.

Hungary has also installed spools of razor wire near a border crossing with Slovenia, which like Hungary is part of the EU's Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

Kovacs said they are meant to "block direct detours" by migrants who may attempt to circumvent the fences on the Serbian and Croatian borders to reach Germany and other countries in Western Europe.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban will be in Vienna on Friday meeting with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and other officials to discuss the migration crisis.

Police said 8,104 migrants entered Hungary on Thursday, nearly all crossing from Croatia.