Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, dogged by weeks of protests over a disputed election, said on Thursday that Belarus needs to close its borders with Poland and Lithuania, and strengthen border controls with Ukraine.
Belarus is in a political crisis following an Aug. 9 presidential electionmarred by vote-rigging allegations that led to mass demonstrations against Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. Lukashenko says he won re-election fairly and is the victim of a smear campaign by the West.
“We are compelled to withdraw our troops from the streets, have half our army on guard and close our state border with the West, first of all with Lithuania and Poland,” Lukashenko said in a speech at a women’s forum in Minsk. “To our greatest regret, we are compelled to strengthen our border with brotherly Ukraine.”
Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller said in a text message that Poland did not have any confirmation that the border had really been closed.
Polish deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski told Reuters by text message: “We take this as another element of the propaganda campaign, a psychological game which aims to create a sense of an external threat.”
The Polish foreign ministry told state run news agency PAP that the border was operating as normal.
Lithuanian border guard chief Rustamas Liubajevas said the border there was also operating as usual.
“We don’t know what this (announcement) means. Will they close border to cargo, or people, or something else? … We need to wait and see what the announcement means and how it is implemented,” Lithuanian foreign affairs minister Linas Linkevicius said.
OSCE election probe
Lukashenko’s announcement comes as the United States and a slew of European countries have stepped up scrutiny of Belarus over alleged irregularities in the country’s August election and repression of protests since.
Denmark said on Thursday that seventeen members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have appointed an independent team of experts to investigate alleged rights violations in the August presidential election.
“Basically, the mission is about holding the Belarussian authorities accountable for their gross violations of the right of the people of Belarus to have free and fair elections, fundamental freedoms and a well-functioning rule of law,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement.
The mission is expected to publish a report within six to eight weeks, his ministry said.
It will investigate reports of persecution of candidates, journalists and activists as well as excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, illegal detention and torture.
President Alexander Lukashenko says he won re-election fairly and is the victim of a Western smear campaign.
Speaking on a visit to Washington, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he believed the game plan of Lukashenko and his main backer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, was to “try to sit this out”.
“When we’ve got answers … under that independent auspices, I think it would be very hard for Lukashenko just to carry on as normal,” Raab told the Atlantic Council think tank, referring to the mission.
“They’ll try, I suspect, and the crucial thing at that point is the action the international community takes,” Raab said, adding there should be room for dialogue — under OSCE auspices or otherwise — “coupled with really clear costs if the regimes in Moscow and in Belarus just do not move”.
The OSCE mission is unlikely to gain access to Belarus.
Minsk prevented the deployment of OSCE election observers by not inviting them, and has ignored repeated offers by the OSCE chairman, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, to visit.
The OSCE members behind the mission are Denmark, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Britain, the Czech Republic and the United States.
The OSCE, a rights and security body, is made up of 57 nations, including Russia.
Separately, a group of 29 countries, including the United States, Germany and Britain, issued a joint statement condemning reported internet shutdowns by the Belarus government following the “fraudulent” election.
“Shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression, especially when they lack procedural fairness and transparency,” the statement said.
The other signatories were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Sources from: France 24
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