Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on French President Emmanuel Macron to take "decisive action in solving the Belarus crisis."
Speaking in Paris on September 15, the first day of a four-day trip to France to bolster support for her movement, Tsikhanouskaya said, "democratic countries have to be firm and principled."
Tsikhanouskaya was the main opposition candidate in the disputed August 2020 presidential election, which handed longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term. The opposition and the West have refused to recognize the results and called for a new, independently monitored vote.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Following the election, mass protests broke out against the alleged fraud, and the demonstrations were met by a brutal crackdown from the Lukashenka government. Fearing for the safety of her family, Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus and currently lives in Lithuania.
The Vyasna human rights center says there are currently 671 political prisoners in Belarus.
"Belarusians need new energy and fuel to go forward," Tsikhanouskaya told journalists. "We do not have the right to lose momentum."
Tsikhanouskaya is not scheduled to meet with Macron during the visit, but she will hold talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
"This support of world leaders helped the people in Belarus to believe they are not alone in their fight for freedom and democracy," she said. "However, the repressions have not stopped for one day in Belarus since last year."
She urged the West to continue and strengthen a policy of "nonrecognition of Lukashenka" and repeated her position that the "only solution" to the standoff in her country was new elections. She added that France could be a part of a "mediation platform" to facilitate another vote.
Tsikhanouskaya met on September 14 with Austrian Minister for EU Affairs Karoline Edtstadler in Vilnius.
"Austria supports civil society in Belarus," Edtstadler wrote on Twitter . "We are definitely on the side of democracy and Justice."