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Lithuania Reports 116 More Border Arrests Of Migrants Crossing From Belarus

Updated

Migrants apprehended by Lithuanian authorities on a forest road near the Belarusian border on July 1.

Lithuanian authorities reported 116 more arrests of migrants crossing the border from Belarus, a surge in crossings that Lithuania says Minsk is purposely organizing in retaliation for European Union sanctions.

The Lithuanian State Border Security Service said on July 3 that border guards also fired tear gas and warning shots as one group of migrants were being detained.

The latest figures bring the number of migrants detained over the past two days to 179, the service said; in all 938 people have been arrested crossing from Belarus this year, 12 times as many in all of last year.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said late on July 2 that the government had declared a state of emergency, and he accused Lukashenka seeking "to weaponize migration to weaken our resolve for sanctions."

Vilnius contends that the migrants, most of whom are Iraqi, are moved to the border with Lithuania, where Belarusian border guards turn a blind eye as they cross into the European Union member state.

Lithuania has been one of the loudest critics of Belarus's strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka since last August's dispute presidential election. The 66-year-old Lukashenka claimed victory, setting off months of unprecedented protests.

The opposition says that election was rigged, and the West has refused to recognize the results of the vote.

The Baltic state has offered refuge to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say was the real winner of the election.

Vilnius has also become a center for Belarusians in exile, and the two countries have expelled a number of diplomats as ties have worsened in recent weeks.

The EU's border guard service, Frontex, has sent teams to Lithuania to help deal with the influx of migrants.

With reporting by AFP
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