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2020.10.30 10:00

Belarusian citizens allowed to cross border between Lithuania and Belarus – VSAT

Margiris Meilutis, BNS, LRT.lt2020.10.30 10:00

Having closed its border to some passenger traffic from Lithuania, Belarus allows its nationals and foreigners who have work visas, employment contracts or residence permits to enter, according to Lithuania's State Border Guard Service (VSAT).

Lithuania learnt of the neighbouring country's decision to close its borders with Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Poland to passenger transport on Thursday afternoon. Belarus cited safety requirements over the coronavirus. There are no restrictions for freight transport, however.

Read more: Belarus closes border with Lithuania

The VSAT initially said that even Belarusian citizens with residence permits in Lithuania were not allowed to enter Belarus.

Overnight, border guards noticed that some people who travelled by car were allowed into Belarus. In all, 19 cars, six buses and around 350 commercial vehicles were allowed to enter via the Lavoriškės, Medininkai, Šalčininkai and Raigardas border checkpoints.

The VSAT estimates that more vehicles could be allowed into Belarus during daytime on Friday, noting, however, that the flow of cars had already been lower due to the pandemic and other restrictions.

Belarus has been engulfed in mass protests since early August when the country's authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko declared himself winner in a presidential election many believe was rigged.

Lithuania has supported the protesters and decried violent crackdowns by the Belarusian police. The country has also sheltered a number of Belarusians fleeing repression at home, including Lukahsenko's election rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has suggested that the border closures may be due to political tensions between the Minsk government and Vilnius.

Security reshuffle

On Thursday, Lukashenko promoted the Minsk police chief to be the new interior minister.

“The situation in Minsk is the most difficult today,” Lukashenko told the new minister, Ivan Kubrakov.

“You know it and you will have to deal with it,” the president was quoted by state news agency BelTA.

Lukashenko did not provide details on why he demoted the previous interior minister, Yury Karayev. Lukashenko moved Karayev to a new position of presidential aide in a western region that borders Poland and Lithuania.

Lukashenko appointed two more security hawks as presidential aides. The former head of Belarus' KGB security agency, Valery Vakulchik, will be deployed at Brest, near the Polish border. The former deputy interior minister Alexander Barsukov, will be responsible for Minsk.

Political analyst Vytis Jurkonis of Vilnius University said that the changes might be related to the border closures.

“It seems that this [border closure] has to do with recent events and the reshuffling of posts inside the Belarusian government, including the removal of Interior Minister Yury Karayev,” Jurkonis told LRT.lt.

“The closure of borders, allegedly due to the Covid-19 situation, and accusations against Poland show that the [Lukashenko] government is trying to grab at a straw, though unsuccessfully. Threats, manipulation and other solutions simply don't work. Such decisions seem silly and probably doubtful even to employees of Belarus' security agencies,” he said.

“The situation is far from stable,” according to Jurkonis.

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