Belarus’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’.
At the same time, an investigator warned the UN of a ‘new Iron Curtain’ descending on Europe, while describing a ‘catastrophic’ situation in the former Soviet republic.
Anna Marin, special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, was interrupted multiple times during her speech by representatives of Russia and Belarus, who called for the broadcast to stop.
The UN has been warned of a ‘new Iron Curtain’ in Europe amid protests in Belarus which has prompted President Lukashenko to threaten to close borders with Poland and Lithuania
Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s embattled president, says he has placed the military on high alert while warning of the threat of ‘war’ from ‘crazy’ foreign leaders
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’.
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.
‘Don’t give away’ Lukashenko: Russian and Belarusian stars collaborate on ‘peace’ anthem
Russian and Belarusian singers have collaborated on a ‘peace’ anthem backing embattled president Alexander Lukashenko.
The song was uploaded to YouTube on Thursday with the title Artists for Peace – Don’t Give Away Your Loved One.
The song title references a line from one of Lukashenko’s speeches ahead of the election, which he is widely thought to have rigged, in which he referred to Belarus as ‘a loved one that you don’t just give away’.
‘Simply know that you don’t give away your loved one,’ the song tells listeners, later adding: ‘Belarus we are a force.’
But it appears that at least one of the artists involved was not aware the song was going to be used to support the Belarusian strongman.
Alexander Buinov, a well-known Russian singer, said he agreed to record the song because it gave him a chance to collaborate with artists he admires.
His agent told The Moscow Times that he had no idea the chorus contained a lyric that supported Lukashenko.
A spokesman for another singer on the record, Filipp Kirkorov, also stated that no songs were sung in support of Lukashenko.
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Russian and Belarusian singers have collaborated on a song called Artists for Peace – Don’t Give Away Your Loved One, which appears to support Lukashenko