Canada's foreign affairs minister meets with exiled Belarus opposition leader

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Canada’s foreign minister met Friday with top Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently in exile in Lithuania.

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who has called the result of the Aug. 9 presidential elections in Belarus “fraudulent,” met Tsikhanouskaya on the last leg of his tour around Europe.

“Canada will always be on your side,” he said after the meeting. “In fact I believe you can expect that entire international community will be together with you and the people of Belarus for the democratic future of your country.”

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Champagne’s visit to the Baltic country comes after top leaders in Europe, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have met with Tsikhanouskaya.

The United States and the European Union have denounced Belarus’ election as neither free nor fair and introduced sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for vote-rigging and a crackdown on protests.

From Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya has warned the government in Minsk that she will call a nationwide strike in Belarus later this month unless President Alexander Lukashenko, who got a sixth term in office in August, resigns, releases political prisoners and stops his government’s violent crackdown on protesters.

On Friday, Belarusian authorities announced that they have issued an arrest warrant for Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the elections, accusing her of “attempts to overthrow constitutional order” and threatening Belarus’ national security.

The announcement follows reports that she was on the wanted list in Russia. Moscow has staunchly backed Lukashenko amid two months of protests that denounced the election as rigged. Moscow has refused to talk to Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition activists.

Champagne is also meeting his counterparts from Lithuania and its Baltic neighbours to the north _ Estonia and Latvia.

It is the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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