By The Canadian Press on October 16, 2020.
VILNIUS, Lithuania – As he continues a European tour, Canada’s top diplomat has met in Lithuania with the exiled opposition leader of Belarus.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met today with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled her home country after an August election that Champagne has called “fraudulent.”
The U.S. and the European Union have denounced the election as neither free nor fair, and introduced sanctions against the officials they say are responsible for vote-rigging and a subsequent crackdown on protests.
Top European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have also met with Tsikhanouskaya.
This was the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years.
Following the meeting in Vilnius, Champagne told the exiled opposition leader that “Canada will always be on your side.”
“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,” Champagne said.
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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.
– with files from The Associated Press