Belarus closes western borders, saying protests are being driven by the west
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has closed the country’s borders with Poland and Lithuania and put the army on high alert, after six weeks of mass protests demanding he resigns.
On Thursday, he repeated his claim that the wave of protesting in the country is being driven by the West. Lukashenko is facing increasing criticism from the US and the EU.
Protesting began after the August 9 presidential election. Official results saw the authoritarian leader given a sixth term in office, but opponents say the results were manipulated.
“We are forced to withdraw troops from the streets, put the army on high alert and close the state border on the west, primarily with Lithuania and Poland,” Lukashenko said at a women’s forum.
Lukashenko also said Belarus’s border with Ukraine would be strengthened.
“I don’t want my country to be at war. Moreover, I don’t want Belarus and Poland, Lithuania to turn into a theatre of military operations where our issues will not be resolved,” he said.
“Therefore, today in front of this hall of the most beautiful, advanced, patriotic people I want to appeal to the peoples of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine – stop your crazy politicians, don’t let war break out!”
He did not mention neighbouring Latvia, which like Poland and Lithuania is a NATO member.
Police violence in the streets
Only Thursday, the main opposition candidate in the disputed presidential elections, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said activists were compiling a list of officers who were allegedly involved in violence against protesters.
Nearly 7,000 people were detained and hundreds beaten by police during the first several days of the protests.
Tikhanovskaya said the opposition will name the list in honour of Alexander Taraikovsky – a protester who died in Minsk the day after the election as police dispersed peaceful demonstrators.
Authorities claimed an explosive device Taraikovsky intended to throw at police blew up in his hands and killed him. But a video by The Associated Press news agency showed he was not holding any explosives when he fell to the ground.
The US, EU criticises the election
The United States and the European Union have criticised the presidential election as neither free nor fair and urged the president to talk with the opposition – a call he rejected.
Washington and Brussels are considering sanctions against Belarusian officials for alleged vote-rigging and the violence to the protests.
On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a resolution rejecting the official election results and saying it would not recognise Lukashenko as the legitimate president once his current term ends on November 5.
Belarus’s foreign ministry responded: “We are disappointed that the European Parliament, positioning itself as a serious, objective and democratic structure, could not find the political will to look beyond its nose, overcome one-sidedness and not become a hostage to conventional cliches.”
Russia – Lukasheno’s main ally and sponsor – has continued its support for the Belarusian leader.
Moscow announced this week it would offer a new $1.5bn loan to his government.
On Friday, Poland and Lithuania said they will both continue to offer medical and material assistance to those hurt and persecuted during the protests.
Poland’s PM urged the EU and international lenders to offer at least one billion euros in economic support for Belarus and its businesses.
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