German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya for talks in Berlin, as mass demonstrations persist in Belarus against President Alexander Lukashenko’s disputed return to power.
At an event organised by a non-governmental organisation ahead of the talks, Tikhanovskaya called on Russian President Vladimir Putin not to interfere in Belarus, which has been rocked by protests and a violent crackdown following an Aug. 9 election.
Tikhanovskaya told attendees at the German Marschall Fund event in Berlin that “I would ask Mr Putin not to support the regime because what’s going on in Belarus is our internal affairs.’’
Neighbouring Russia is Belarus’ closest ally. Putin has pledged to send law enforcement officers to the country to support Lukashenko if needed to end the protests and restore order.
Tikhanovskaya expressed gratitude to Germany for taking an interest in the crisis.
“We are really grateful that you are talking so loudly about Belarus. We need this attention now.’’
In previous comments to Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine, Tikhanovskaya indicated that her discussions with Merkel could include the possibility of the chancellor mediating in the crisis.
Lukashenko remains in power in Minsk in spite Germany and many other countries rejecting the result of the presidential election, in which he claimed a resounding victory.
Tikhanovskaya came second to Lukashenko, according to the disputed official tally. Her supporters alleged she was the actual winner.
Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the chancellor was looking forward to the meeting and on Monday reiterated Germany’s support for the peaceful anti-government protests in Belarus.
On Sunday, over 100,000 people took to the streets of Belarus for the eighth weekend in a row to protest against Lukashenko.
Several people have died, hundreds have been injured and thousands have been detained during the crackdown on dissent.
Tikhanovskaya fled Belarus for Lithuania after protests erupted at how the elections were conducted, and other opposition leaders were detained by the security forces.
The European Union does not recognise the election results. On Friday, the bloc imposed sanctions on Belarusian individuals accused of involvement in election fraud and human rights abuses.
Directly after meeting Merkel, Tikhanovskaya is due to meet the leaders of Germany’s Green party in Berlin. On Wednesday, she is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.