Belarus president says he will close borders with Poland and Lithuania

Belarus president says he will close borders with Poland and Lithuania and warns of ‘war’ after blaming the West for protests

  • Alexander Lukashenko is clinging to power in Belarus after ‘rigged’ election   
  • He has repeatedly blamed foreigners for protests, and warned of NATO ‘invasion’
  • On Thursday, he announced that borders with Poland and Lithuania will close
  • He said the military is on ‘high alert’ and warned ‘crazy leaders’ against ‘war’

Balerus’s embattled president Alexander Lukashenko says he has placed the military on high alert and will close borders with Poland and Lithuania amid fears of a ‘war’.

The strongman, known as Europe’s last dictator, appealed to the ‘crazy leaders’ of both countries, plus Ukraine, not to let conflict break out, saying it ‘will not resolve our issues’. 

Lukashenko has been clinging to power in Belarus amid mass protests since claiming victory in an August 9 election that was widely seen as rigged.

He has repeatedly blamed the protests on foreign agitators, while accusing NATO countries of stationing troops on his borders in preparation for an ‘invasion’. 

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s embattled president, says he has placed the military on high alert and will close the border with Poland and Lithuania amid fears of an ‘invasion’

Lukashenko told a cheering crowd at a women’s summit that ‘crazy leaders’ in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine must be stopped from starting a ‘war’

NATO leaders have repeatedly insisted that the troops are merely defence forces, and pose no threat to his regime.

But in a speech to a women’s forum on Thursday, he said: ‘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 also said Belarus’ border with Ukraine would be strengthened.

‘I don’t want to be at war. Moreover, I don’t want Belarus and Poland, Lithuania to turn into a theater of military operations where our issues will not be resolved. 

‘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 neighboring Latvia, which like Poland and Lithuania is a NATO member.

On Friday morning, guards on the Polish side of the border said they had received no orders that the crossing would be closed, and that traffic was flowing freely across it.

‘The border is open, we see no disruptions, there are no waiting times and we have no signals that the border is to be closed,’ a guard said.

Lukashenko has faced six weeks of mass demonstrations against his regime following what opponents say was a rigged election, which has seen police brutality against activists

Demonstrators are calling for fresh elections to be held, which Lukashenko has vowed will never happen (pictured, a demonstration in Minsk this week)

Women hold red and white umbrellas as they demonstrate against Lukashenko’s rule in Minsk

Lukashenko’s remarks came hours after his main opposition candidate said activists are compiling a list of law enforcement officers who were allegedly involved in violence against protesters.

Nearly 7,000 people were detained and hundreds were brutally beaten by police during the first several days of post-election protests.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and English teacher and political novice until running in the election, said: ‘We have been given the names of those who were beating and torturing people. 

‘We are preparing a list of officials and law enforcement officers who have taken part in lawless repressions.’

Human rights groups are working with opposition activists to identify the officers and officials, Tsikhanouskaya said, adding that the list will be shared with the United States, the European Union and Russia.

Tsikhanouskaya, who left for Lithuania in the wake of the election under pressure from Belarusian authorities, said the opposition will name the list in honor of Alexander Taraikovsky, a protester who died in Minsk the day after the election as police dispersed peaceful demonstrators.

Authorities initially said an explosive device Taraikovsky intended to throw at police blew up in his hands and killed him. 

However, Associated Press video showed he was not holding any explosives when he fell to the ground, his shirt bloodied.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main opponent who is currently in Lithuania, says she is preparing a list of police officers who have been involved in brutality against protesters

Belarusian authorities later acknowledged that Taraikovsky might have been killed by a rubber bullet. 

The street in the capital of Minsk where Taraikovsky died turned into a pilgrimage site, with thousands of people, including European ambassadors, laying flowers.

After the initial broad crackdown on protests, Belarusian authorities changed tactics and tried to end displays of dissent with the selective detentions of demonstrators and the jailing of opposition leaders.

The U.S. and the EU have criticized the presidential election as neither free nor fair, and urged Lukashenko to start talks with the opposition – a call he has rejected. 

Washington and Brussels have been pondering sanctions against Belarusian officials for alleged vote-rigging and the violent response to protests.

On Thursday, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution rejecting the official election results and saying it would not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president once his current term expires Nov. 5.

Belarus’ foreign ministry responded strongly, saying: ‘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, Lukashenko’s main ally and sponsor, has maintained staunch support for the Belarusian leader. Moscow announced this week it would offer a new $1.5 billion loan to his government.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Friday during a trip to Lithuania that the two countries – both Belarus’ neighbors – will continue to offer medical and material assistance to Belarusians who were hurt during the protests. 

He argued that the EU and international lenders should offer at least 1 billion euros in economic support for Belarus and its businesses.

‘It is crucial for Europe to be aware of how important a free and sovereign Belarus is for the security and the welfare of our entire continent,’ Morawiecki said.

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