Belarusian opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks as Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne looks on during a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

Champagne meets Belarus’s exiled opposition leader in Lithuania

Canada “will always be on your side” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told exiled Belarusian opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya during their meeting in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on Friday.

Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania following the crackdown against tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets following the Aug. 9 poll that many believe was won by her.

Canada has not recognized the results of the presidential election that gave Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko his six term in office since coming to power in 1994.

“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.

Speaking to reporters during a teleconference call from Vilnius, Champagne said it was “a very special moment” meeting with Tikhanovskaya.

“You know sometimes you do things and don’t really appreciate the impact, but what she was telling me was I was one of the first to call at a moment she was saying was pivotal in her fight for the democratic movement,” Champagne said. “And I think she holds Canada and our intervention very high.”

Canada slapped new sanctions on 31 additional Belarusian officials on Thursday in coordination with the EU and the U.S. The new sanctions came less than three weeks after Champagne in coordination with the U.K. announced Magnitsky Act sanctions targeting Lukashenko, his eldest son and 12 other Belarusian officials reportedly involved in rigging the polls and the brutal crackdown on protesters.

“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,” Tikhanovskaya said after her talks with Champagne.

Tikhanovskaya 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 Tikhanovskaya, accusing her of “attempts to overthrow constitutional order” and of being a threat to national security.

With files from The Associated Press

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