Belarus opposition leader: Foreign mediation may be needed

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The leading opposition candidate in Belarus’ disputed presidential election said Wednesday that the political tension in her country should be solved internally, by the Belarusian people, but she did not exclude the need for future international mediation.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya made the remarks at an international economic forum in Poland, a European Union member nation which has supported demands for political change in neighboring Belarus during a month of post-election protests.

The presidential election is widely seen as having been rigged. Official results gave the authoritarian and pro-Russia leader of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, a sixth term with 80% of the vote to Tsikhanouskaya’s 10%.

Protesters are seeking his resignation. .Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition leaders have called for a dialogue with the government and a new election.

Tsikhanouskaya, who placed second in the election, said Belarusians are grateful to foreign countries for their support but continued, “We ask all countries, also Russia, to respect the sovereignty of our country because this is our internal, sovereign matter.”

“If a dialogue proves not possible, then maybe, in the future, we will ask other countries to act as mediators in our talks with our authorities and it will be an open request,” she said.

She said the reformed Belarus the opposition is fighting for would want to have good relations with all nations, including Russia, with which Belarus has close economic ties.

“We cannot turn away from Russia because it will always be our neighbor, and we need to have good relations with them,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

Earlier Wednesday Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition leaders met for talks with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Morawiecki gave Tsikhanouskaya a symbolic key to a new Belarusian center in Warsaw, saying that the Polish government wanted to provide Belarusians with a home while they continue their struggle for change. Belarusian House occupies a 1930s villa that in the past served as the French ambassador’s residence and the Tunisian Embassy.

“We want all Belarusians to find their real, most wonderful home in Belarus as soon as possible, but we realistically know that this fight must also be fought and supported from somewhere else,” he said.

Tsikhanouskaya expressed gratitude for Poland’s support in this “difficult time for Belarus.”

“President Lukashenko has no mandate anymore. We cannot treat him as a president, we cannot entrust the future of our country in his hands,” she said, stressing that a new election is needed.

Amid the turmoil in Belarus, Poland and Lithuania have played key roles in supporting the Belarusian opposition, supplying Belarusians with news and information about the situation in the country and offering medical help to those hurt during massive street protests.

Tsikhanouskaya moved to Lithuania a day after the vote, under pressure from authorities.

Morawiecki’s government in past weeks announced a series of efforts to help, including providing scholarships and places at Polish universities for Belarusian students and academics. The prime minister and Tsikhanouskaya met with students at Warsaw University on Wednesday.

Outside the university, they were loudly greeted by dozens of young Belarusians chanting “Sviata president” and other slogans. The young people had white and red flags with a coat of arms, which is not the official flag of Belarus but has appeared at anti-Lukashenko protests.


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