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Poland monitoring situation on Belarus border, deputy minister says

Poland is monitoring the situation on its border with Belarus, as the Belarusian army plans to hold drills this week in the Grodno region bordering Poland and Lithuania, Deputy Defence Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz said on Monday.

Longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is struggling to contain a wave of mass protests and strikes that pose the biggest challenge to his 26-year-old rule.

Belarusians chanting “Step down!” in the capital Minsk on Sunday staged the biggest protest so far against what they said was Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election a week ago.

Over the weekend Russia’s RIA news agency reported that the Belarusian army plans to hold drills over Aug. 17-20 near the country’s nuclear plant and in the Grodno region, while Lukashenko said that an air assault brigade would move to Belarus’ Western border.

Lukashenko said earlier that he was concerned with the NATO military exercises being conducted in Poland and Lithuania, which he sees as an arms build-up.

Belarusian opposition supporters rally in the centre of Minsk on Sunday. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)

NATO dismissed the allegations by Lukashenko but said it was closely monitoring the situation following his contested re-election.

“Neither Poland nor other Western European countries will get caught up in the intrigue Lukashenko is trying to plot,” Skurkiewicz told public radio.

“We are looking at what is happening in Belarus, just like all NATO countries, and we will also look at what happens at our borders. We will not be passive in this observation,” Skurkiewicz also said.

Polish officials have been discussing the situation in Belarus with the EU and the United States. Poland said that potential EU sanctions on Belarus should only be imposed on individuals responsible for the use of force and for organizing the election, which Warsaw believes will need to be repeated.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily that the EU should not impose sanctions on Belarus without presenting the country an alternative to its close ties with Russia.

Opposition politician says she’s ready to lead

“Of course this is not about immediately including Belarus into the orbit of EU associated countries, as it is too early for it… However, Belarus needs to have…the possibility of real cooperation with the EU countries,” Jablonski said in an interview published on Monday. 

Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday she was ready to lead Belarus and called for the creation of a legal framework to  ensure a new fair election could be held.

Speaking in a video address from Lithuania, she also urged security and law enforcement officers to switch sides from Lukashenko’s government, saying their past  behavior would be forgiven if they did so now.

Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania following the Aug. 8 vote in Belarus.

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