Updated at 14:54,16-10-2020

Belarusian Opposition Leader Tsikhanouskaya Meets With Germany's Merkel

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Belarusian Opposition Leader Tsikhanouskaya Meets With Germany's Merkel
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya poses on October 6 in front of remains of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz that were repainted by Belarus activists during a rally to protest against police violence and to reject the results of the country's recent presidential election.
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in a bid to further raise international pressure on the Eastern European country's longtime ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Tsikhanouskaya, who Belarus's opposition says won the country's presidential election in August, encouraged Berlin to play a greater role in resolving the political crisis.

"I am very grateful to Germany and all the German parties who are so supportive of the Belarusian people in their fight for freedom, in their fight for new honest and transparent elections," she said after the 45-minute meeting.

There was no comment from Merkel.

In comments to German media, Tsikhanouskaya requested that Germany, the current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, support expanded EU sanctions on Belarus, including putting Lukashenka on its blacklist.

Last week, the 27-nation bloc overcame a weeks-long political stalemate and agreed to impose visa bans and asset freezes on 40 Belarus officials deemed responsible for electoral fraud and a brutal crackdown on protesters and opposition members. Lukashenka is not on the sanctions list, but EU diplomats have said he may be added at a later date.

The European Union does not recognize the election results.

Protests against Lukashenka have continued unabated for eight weeks despite a brutal crackdown, with several killed, hundreds injured, and more than 10,000 detained.

Much of the opposition leadership has been detained or forced into exile. Tsikhanouskaya's husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, has been in prison since before the election on charges he and supporters say are politically motivated.

Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighboring Lithuania soon after protests against the election results began.

Before meeting with Merkel, Tsikhanouskaya called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his support for Lukashenka and warned against Moscow interfering in Belarus's affairs.

"I would ask Mr. Putin not to support the regime because what's going on in Belarus is our internal affair," Tsikhanouskaya told attendees at a German Marshall Fund event in Berlin.

Later, she told German media that Russia would be needed as "a moderator for the beginning of dialogue" with Lukashenka, although she said the opposition had not had direct contact with Moscow.

Russia is Belarus's closest political, economic, and military ally. In response to domestic and international pressure on Belarus, Putin has pledged economic aid and potentially security support to prop up Lukashenka if the situation deteriorates.

Tsikhanouskaya's visit to Berlin comes as tensions between Germany and Russia are already soaring following the suspected poisoning of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny with a military-grade nerve agent.

Navalny, who blames the poisoning on Putin, continues to recover since being released from a Berlin hospital on September 22 after spending 32 days in the clinic.

There is growing pressure on Merkel from both within her government and opposition to respond to Navalny's poisoning with sanctions on Russia and by halting the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline bringing Russian natural gas to Germany.

After meeting Merkel, Tsikhanouskaya is due to meet the leaders of Germany's Green party in Berlin.

The Green party is calling for a tougher response on Belarus and an end to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Tsikhanouskaya will also meet with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.