Canadian FM sees exiled Belarus opposition figure in Vilnius
VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Canada’s foreign minister pledged support for top Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania, during a meeting Friday.
Francois-Philippe Champagne told Tsikhanouskaya that Canada “will always be on your side.”
“In fact I believe you can expect that (the) entire international community will be together with you and the people of Belarus for the democratic future of your country,” Champagne said after the meeting, on the last leg of his European tour.
Champagne has said the result of the Aug. 9 presidential elections in Belarus, which gave the country’s long-standing strongman, President Alexander Lukashenko, a landslide victory strongly disputed by the opposition, was “fraudulent.”
Champagne’s visit to the Baltic country follows Tsikhanouskaya’s meetings with European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The United States and the European Union have denounced Belarus’ election as neither free nor fair and introduced sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for alleged vote-rigging and a crackdown on protests.
“This is a very clear sign to the criminals in Belarus that the international community is watching them and they should think twice before (unleashing) another wave of violence against their own people,” Tsikhanouskaya said after her talks with Champagne.
Tsikhanouskaya has warned the government in Minsk that she will call a nationwide strike in Belarus later this month unless Lukashenko, who got a sixth term in office in August, resigns, releases political prisoners and stops the violent crackdown on protesters.
Earlier Friday, Belarusian authorities announced that they have issued an arrest warrant for Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania after the election, accusing her of “attempts to overthrow constitutional order” and of being a threat to national security.
“I continue to struggle with this regime. After our victory, all these accusations will be deleted,” Tsikhanouskaya commented.
The arrest warrant announcement follows reports that she was on a wanted list in Russia. Moscow has staunchly backed Lukashenko amid two months of large protests. Moscow has refused to talk to Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition activists.
In the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years, Champagne was also to meet his counterparts from Lithuania and neighboring Estonia and Latvia.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.