French President Emmanuel Macron pushed for European mediation in the Belarus political crisis after a meeting with the country’s opposition leader on Tuesday.
During his visit to Lithuania, Macron met with exiled Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opponent of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus immediately after the August 9 presidential election, which saw long-time leader Lukashenko credited with 80% of the vote. Tsikhanouskaya says the election was rigged in his favour.
“We had a very good discussion. Now we need to be pragmatic and to support Belarus people and we will do all that,” Macron told reporters.
Macron praised Tsikhanouskaya's courage during a news conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Monday. “We do not recognise the election of Lukashenko and so we don’t recognise his status as president,” he said.
The meeting came as Britain and Canada announced coordinated sanctions on Lukashenko and seven senior Belarusian officials, including a travel ban and freezing their assets.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the measures were taken against the Belarusian president's "violent and fraudulent regime".
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced "unprecedented external pressure" on Belarus, which has been rocked by an unprecedented protest movement against Lukashenko since his controversial re-election and inauguration.
"Belarus has found itself in a difficult situation, in conditions of unprecedented external pressure after the presidential elections", the results of which have not been recognised by the European Union and the United States, Putin said in a video address to participants in a Russian-Belarusian forum.
Lukashenko, who has so far refused to have a dialogue with opposition leaders and protesters, sought the support of Russia to end the crisis. At a summit in Sochi between the two leaders earlier this month, Putin promised security support and a €1.2 billion loan.
"The relations between Russia and Belarus are stronger than time and the economic situation and are based on a solid foundation," he added.
The European Union said last week it does not recognise Lukashenko as president of Belarus because of large-scale protests by Belarusians who question the results of presidential elections that Lukashenko claims he overwhelmingly won.
Macron was quoted in Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper as saying “it’s clear that Lukashenko must go”, ahead of his three-day trip to Lithuania and Latvia.
Following her meeting with Macron, Tikhanovskaya told AFP that she would deliver a speech in the French Parliament.
"We received an invitation to speak before the French Parliament and we accepted it," she said.