Belarus strengthens Russian border surveillance amid national vote

Moscow, Aug 9 (efe-epa).- Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Sunday he has strengthened surveillance on the border with Russia after accusing Moscow of trying to meddle in presidential elections.

Belarusians have been called to the polls to elect a new leader with the current five-term president facing his toughest challenge in years from opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

There have been increasing tensions with Belarus’s neighbor Russia in the runup to the vote, with the recent arrest of 33 Russians near Minsk who have been accused of plotting to disrupt the election.

“There is very strict control on the border. Surveillance has been stepped up in the Russian-Belarusian sector,” Lukashenko told the press after casting his ballot at a polling station in central Minsk.

Lukashenko, who is seeking a sixth term in office after governing since 1994, said 170 people had applications to enter Belarus rejected on Sunday morning.

“We are considering all the variants. But there is no reason to say that from tomorrow the country will be thrown into chaos and civil war,” he added.

“We will not lose control of the situation. I guarantee it.”

Lukashenko refused to sign a State Union Treaty with Russia because of a lack of agreement on oil and gas tariffs and other commercial disputes.

He has accused Moscow and in particular the Gazprom gas consortium of supporting opposition candidates in Belarus.

Tensions escalated last week with the arrest of alleged mercenaries from Kremlin-linked private military company Wagner.

Lukashenko revealed on Sunday that he had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday and agreed to jointly clarify what happened.

“It may be that all this has been provoked by a third party. I do not care. That is secondary,” he said.

“The important thing is that we have set a fire in the center of Minsk.”

He said the incident will not have a negative impact on relations with Moscow and vowed to continue normal dealings with the Kremlin after the elections.

Lukashenko also denied repressing opposition candidates after two of the main presidential frontrunners, blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky and banker Viktor Babariko, were arrested and a third Valery Tsepkalo was forced into exile.

The president’s main rival Tikhanovskaya is running in the place of her husband Tikhanovsky.

She has been joined by two other women, Tsepkalo’s wife Veronika and Babariko’s representative Maria Kolesnikova.

The trio has promised to call new presidential elections within six months if they win the vote.

Tikhanovskaya has said she expects the election to be rigged.

More than 40 percent of Belarusians have voted in advance, which opposition and independent observers have criticized as an instrument of fraud.

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