BREAKING NEWS
This content is not available in your region

¨Protest-hit Belarus closes all borders except its one with Russia as coronavirus surges in Europe

Access to the comments Comments
Only the border with neighbouring Russia has been kept open for all travellers.
Only the border with neighbouring Russia has been kept open for all travellers.   -   Copyright  FILE - AP Photo 2020
Text size Aa Aa

Belarus, still engulfed in political turmoil from a disputed presidential election, has partially closed its land borders to travellers from all neighbouring countries except Russia.

Entry into the country from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine is now restricted for most people.

Employees of diplomatic missions and consular offices are exempt from the restrictions, with the drivers of international transport vehicles and train crews are also free to enter Belarus.

The decision was made in connection with the "current epidemic situation in neighbouring countries", according to a statement by Belarusian Border Control Committee.

The committee has however stated that restrictions are not in place at the national airport of the capital city, Minsk.

There is speculation that the move might also have a political motivation, given that Belarus has previously accused its neighbours of trying to destabilise the country.

Senior figures from the country's political opposition, including presidential candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, left Belarus for Lithuania, citing pressure from the regime.

On Thursday, Lithuania's State Border Security Office reported that while freight traffic had been allowed to cross the border, as usual, cars were restricted.

"From about 16:00, passenger car traffic from Lithuania to Belarus through the international checkpoints of Šalčininkai, Medininkai, Lavoriškės, and Raigardas was suspended," the Security Office said.

"Recently, the flow of people going through these points due to pandemics and other restrictions has been low."

Lithuania also says they have installed a new surveillance system to monitor the 112-kilometre border with Belarus.

Meanwhile, President Lukashenko also dismissed Interior Minister Yuri Karayev on Thursday, replacing him with the head of the Minsk Department of Internal Affairs, Ivan Kubrakov, according to state media.

Karayev had been in charge of the security forces' response to the largest wave of anti-government protests in the history of the former Soviet republic.

Opposition demonstrations have raged in Belarus for nearly three months to demand Lukashenko's resignation following his disputed re-election in August.

Authorities in Belarus have been accused of excessive force by demonstrators, and thousands of demonstrators have been detained.

Lukashenko has demanded a firm hand against protestors and strikers who the regime says are committing acts of "terrorism".

The country's President has also lambasted students for their part in the demonstrations and has stepped up pressure on universities in the country to prevent national strikes.

State media also report that the former interior minister, Mr Karaev, will be appointed assistant to the president in the Grodno region, where, in addition to Minsk, there have been numerous arrests during the protests.

Western governments have voiced support for the opposition movement in Belarus, and earlier this month, EU foreign ministers agreed to new sanctions on President Lukashenko and other officials for their roles in the repression of demonstrations.