Belarusian activists in Lithuania have staged a rally aiming to block traffic heading to and from Belarus via the Medininkai border crossing, in a bid to put pressure on the Belarusian regime to open borders and call for stricter EU sanctions.
“You say that we are guests, but I think that the Lithuanian government sees us (more) than that,” said Belarusian activist Vitali Aleinik during negotiations between protesters and the police on Tuesday (8 June).
Contrary to the tents set up over the weekend, the protest was not permitted by the Lithuanian authorities.
“I cannot let you do something that is against the laws of the Lithuanian Republic,” Dainius Daukantas from the Vilnius police told several dozen protesters. “It needs to be done lawfully, not spontaneously,” he said.
According to one of the protesters, Yauhen Zaichkin, police and the Lithuanian Border Guard Service (VSAT) that were on site threatened those attempting to block the road with detainment and a fine.
The dual protest action at the Babrouniki–Berastavitsa checkpoint on the Polish–Belarus border and the Medininkai crossing with Lithuania was called by Pavel Latushko, one of the Belarusian opposition leaders currently in Poland.
“We can’t wait for Lukashenko’s regime to commit another crime – it’s time to move to action,” Latushko, a former Belarusian diplomat, said last week. He added that if the EU does not impose strict sanctions against the regime, they would start blocking the road to the border crossing.
In Medininkai, several dozen activists set up tents metres from the border crossing on 5 June, staying overnight and raising flags and posters against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.
Although some prominent Belarusian NGOs took part in organising the protest, those at the border said they had mostly organised it themselves using the popular Telegram messaging app, which was instrumental in helping guide protests against Lukashenko after the rigged election in August last year.
Earlier in May, the Belarusian regime diverted a Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, an editor at one of the most prominent opposition Telegram channels, Nexta.
In response, the EU has banned the Belarusian state-owned airline Belavia from the bloc’s airspace. The Belarusian regime, meanwhile, severed the possibility for Belarusians to leave the country via the land border crossings. Now, only those holding a permanent residency abroad are allowed to leave Belarus.
Activists plan to continue staying at the protest camp near the border crossing.
“If there will be no sanctions and the borders do not open, we will stage the same action [to block traffic], but this time with permissions, on 14 June” to coincide with the NATO summit in Brussels, Aleinik told LRT.lt.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]