Emmanuel Macron to meet Belarus opposition leader in highest-profile meeting since protests began

French President will meet with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Tuesday, marking the most high-profile meeting for the Belarus opposition leader since she helped inspire pro-democracy protests following the country’s presidential election.

Tikhanovskaya, 38, told Agence France-Presse she requested the meeting with Macron in hopes of trying to get European counterparts to mediate the crisis, adding that Belarus “badly needs” a dialogue between the government and the opposition.

“The protests are not going to stop,” Tikhanovskaya said.

Belarus has now surpassed seven weeks of nonstop violent protests since the disputed victory of Alexander Lukashenko in August. The electoral commission said that Lukashenko won a sixth presidential term with more than 80% of the vote, but the opposition believes he cheated, claiming at least 60% of the votes went to opposition candidates.

At least 50 people were detained on Sunday, according to the BBC, while video footage showed police spraying an irritant directly into the faces of demonstrators.

Macron called on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to handle mediation on Belarus, adding that Paris “will do everything it can to ensure this mediation comes into being.” His visit with Tikhanovskaya comes during a three-day trip to Lithuania and Latvia.

Macron also called upon Russian President to convince Lukashenko about the initiative to help mediation in Belarus.

“We can’t pretend that Europe is an island far from Russia,” Macron said, adding that this proximity “calls for strategic work to build a security architecture” that “avoids escalations.”

Macron, who expressed support for the protesters, has also sparred with Lukashenko, who he said “has to go” after being in power for 26 years.

Lukashenko dismissed the criticism, saying that Macron should’ve resigned during the yellow vest protests in France that began in October 2018.

The United States and several countries within the European Union have refused to recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus.

Tikhanovskaya previously met with leaders in Poland and Lithuania, who have taken the lead in European diplomacy on Belarus, as well as with EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Earlier this month, the EU announced financial sanctions against those involved in election fraud in Belarus, with European Council President Charles Michel adding that the bloc doesn’t recognize the results of the August election.

“We stand by your side in desire to exercise your rights and peaceful, democratic future,” Michel told protesters, adding that violence against peaceful demonstrators is “shocking and unacceptable.”

Read original article here.