RIGA - Latvia declared a local state of emergency along its border with Belarus, as Lithuanian lawmakers approved the construction of a fence to stem an influx of illegal migrants.

In the past 24 hours, about 200 migrants have crossed over from Belarus into Latvia, an EU and NATO member state of 1.9 million people. “The emergency regime means that the border between Latvia and Belarus will be practically closed to everybody,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said after the cabinet approved the emergency to last from Wednesday until November 10.

In neighbouring Lithuania, parliament on Tuesday passed a law giving the green light to the construction of a fence along its border with Belarus.  The law gives the project a high national priority that eases certain restrictions, such as rules on tenders, according to the BNS agency.  “We must have a strong and reliable border with Belarus... as soon as possible,” Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said, noting that the law would halve construction time for the 152 million euros ($178 million) barrier.

Brussels has accused Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately encouraging new unauthorised arrivals of mainly Iraqi migrants in retaliation for increasingly tough sanctions against his regime.