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Lithuania says its Belarus border is open despite Lukashenko claim

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Lithuania's foreign minister Linas Linkevičius
Lithuania's foreign minister Linas Linkevičius   -   Copyright  AP Photos
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There have been "no changes whatsoever" on Belarus' border with Lithuania, the latter's foreign minister told Euronews.

It came after Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, hit by six weeks of protests, announced on Thursday he was putting troops on high alert and closing some of the country's borders, including those with Lithuania and Poland.

But Lithuania's FM, Linas Linkevičius, confirmed the border was open at the time of speaking on Friday afternoon and urged caution concerning the Belarusian leader's statements.

"Lukashenko is desperate and his statements are desperate," said Linkevičius, adding announcements coming out of Belarus "should be verified".

While the announcement of the border closure "sounds dramatic" it would be very detrimental to the Belarusian economy, which is currently weak, Linkevičius claimed.

However, the foreign minister said it was "disturbing" and "counterproductive" that half of the country's army was supposedly sent to the border to defend Belarus when "nobody is threatening" the country.

The move from Lukashenko is creating tension and "very counter-productive", he added.

Linkevičius said his country understood the situation Belarusians are facing and has already given 200 people from visas "for humanitarian reasons".

Lithuania is trying to "be helpful to those who are really exposed to danger", he added, not just opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is currently residing in the country, but also her colleagues.

Policy on Belarusians moving to Lithuania in the future "depends on how the situation develops," added Linkevičius.

President Lukashenko's decision to close the borders with Poland and Lithuania underlines his repeated claim that the massive wave of protests is driven by the West and comes amid increasing criticism from the United States and the European Union.

Protests began after the August 9 presidential election that official results say gave the authoritarian leader a sixth term in office; 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' 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.

The Belarusian leader also blasted the European Parliament's decision not to recognise the Belarusian elections.

"I want to say the following in response to this, so that no one worries in Russia or Belarus. We held elections based on the constitution and laws of our country, and we don't require recognition from anyone," he said.