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Belarus Partially Shuts Borders Over COVID-19 As Protest Crackdown Continues

The Bruzgi-Kuznitsa border crossing between Belarus and Poland
The Bruzgi-Kuznitsa border crossing between Belarus and Poland

Belarus has partially closed all its land borders to foreigners in a move that prompted speculation the restrictions are politically motivated.

The Eastern European country’s State Border Committee said the border restrictions went into effect on November 1 to “prevent the spread of infection caused by COVID-19."

The decision comes as embattled ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka seeks to quell ongoing protests and strikes triggered by a disputed August 9 election that gave him a sixth consecutive term as president.

Lukashenka has repeatedly blamed the opposition and hundreds of thousands of people flooding the streets of being foreign-backed puppets.

He also accuses neighboring Poland and the Baltic states of trying to destabilize the country.

The move to restrict cross-border movement comes as Europe is experiencing a second wave of virus infections and countries across the continent are implementing fresh lockdowns.

Belarusian officials previously downplayed the coronavirus pandemic for months.

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The Border Control Committee said the border measure “suspends entry to foreign nationals and stateless persons” through crossings with Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.

The restrictions do not apply to Russian citizens transiting Belarus en route to Russia, a close ally of Belarus. They also don’t impact cross-border trade and diplomats and other official delegations.

Passengers arriving to Belarus at Minsk’s airport are also not subject to the ban.

Although Belarusian citizens are supposed to be allowed in the country, there have been reports of some citizens being denied entry.

Belarusian opposition figure Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left the country under pressure following the election she claims she won, said earlier this week the border closure was a sign that Lukashenka is "in a panic.”

Lukashenka has responded to demonstrations with a crackdown that has seen more than 10,000 arrests and accusations of torture and beatings by security forces against peaceful demonstrators. He also ordered military drills, including on the country's western border with Poland and Lithuania.

With reporting by
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    RFE/RL's Belarus Service

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.