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Lithuania on brink of state emergency as migrant crisis explodes on Poland border

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Lithuania’s government said on Wednesday it would ask parliament to declare a state of emergency on its border with Poland from December 10 as part of efforts to prevent the smuggling of migrants.

The state of emergency would include border checks focusing on “suspicious vehicles”, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said.

Poland currently provides the only checks-free route from Lithuania and Latvia to Germany, the destination for many migrants who have arrived in the region via Belarus in recent months.

Lithuanian prosecutors are pursuing 60 cases of illegal smuggling of people and new smuggler “networks” are being established, the Interior Ministry said.

Bilotaite told reporters ahead of a government meeting: “We see attempts by our own organised crime groups to work with Belarusian criminals to organise the smuggling.

“We need to stop this secondary migration from gaining momentum.”

The government is also due to ask parliament on Friday to extend an existing state of emergency on Lithuania’s border with Belarus and at camps hosting migrants who arrived from there.

The EU accuses Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to cross into the bloc via Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Belarus denies this.

Lithuania has built a razor-wire fence along 100 km (60 miles) of its border with Belarus since the crisis started, though migrants have cut through it at least three times already, the Interior Ministry said.

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In the past week, Lithuanian border guards have turned back around 50 people a day trying to enter illegally from Belarus, data showed.

The ministry said: “There are around 10,000 illegal migrants in Belarus.

“Until they are returned to their countries of origin by flights from Minsk, there is a sufficiently high risk that they could be directed towards Lithuania.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he was ready to suspend Russian energy flows to Europe over its territory if Poland closes its border with Belarus, Russia’s RIA news agency reported on Wednesday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Belarus was under “unprecedented, unjustified and aggressive” pressure from some Western nations, and President Vladimir Putin had “expressed his understanding” of Lukashenko’s tough responses.

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He said: “But on the other hand, the president is counting on this not resulting in any breaches of our obligations towards European gas buyers, especially at such a tough time for the Europeans.”

The Polish Defence Minister said on Wednesday that the Belarusian defence attache had been summoned after lights set up by Polish soldiers near the town of Terespol were damaged by fire from air guns.

Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter: “The provocations of the Belarusian services are absolutely unacceptable.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday signed into law new regulations letting the government limit access to areas around the border.

The law came into effect on Wednesday, replacing a state of emergency that expired overnight.



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