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Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday he wanted to avoid confrontation over migrants at the Polish border in a crisis that the EU has accused him of orchestrating.
His comments came after the EU and the US vowed to expand sanctions on Belarus this week, with thousands of migrants -- mostly from the Middle East -- camped at the Polish border in freezing temperatures.
Brussels says Belarus's authoritarian leader has lured the migrants to the EU's doorstep, charges that Minsk has denied.
"We cannot let this so-called problem lead to heated confrontation," Lukashenko told a government meeting, according to state news agency Belta.
"The main thing now is to protect our country and our people, and not to allow clashes."
Lukashenko discussed the crisis with Germany's Angela Merkel on Monday, his first phone call with a Western leader since he suppressed mass protests against his rule last year.
The Belarus strongman -- in power since 1994 and accused by the West of rigging an election last year -- said the pair agreed the stand-off should be de-escalated.
"We were of the united opinion that nobody needs escalation -- not the EU, or Belarus," he said.
But he said they had "differing" views with Merkel on how the migrants got to Belarus, with the West saying Minsk had brought them there as revenge for sanctions.
EU foreign ministers have agreed that existing sanctions targeting Lukashenko's regime will be expanded to include individuals or companies found to have encouraged border crossings.
"We are not gathering all the refugees in the world and bringing them to Belarus, as Poland told the EU," Lukashenko said, adding that Minsk had deported around 5,000 migrants.
- First signs of de-escalation -
Merkel's office said the pair discussed bringing humanitarian aid to the migrants -- which include many young children -- stuck at the border.
France's Europe minister, Clement Beaune, said Monday there were signs that the crisis was de-escalating, while urging "caution."
"Europe has been quick, united and firm on this crisis," he told the France 2 television channel. "It is doing the right thing."
Belarus's Russian ally, President Vladimir Putin, has been calling for the EU to speak directly to Minsk.
But Beaune said the "first steps back" were not linked to Putin, but to the EU's "unity."
Lukashenko also alleged Tuesday that the United Arab Emirates would help resolve the crisis.
"The leadership of this country has a lot of experience in working with refugees, they have already taken part in resolving similar issues in the world and worked with thousands of refugees," he said.
He did not provide further details.
Many of the migrants had arrived in Belarus after taking flights from Dubai.
Iraq has said it would start voluntary repatriations of its citizens from Belarus this week, but many migrants -- including those AFP spoke to -- have vowed not to go back.