Blinken meets Belarus opposition leader in show of support

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya looks on before she delivers a speech in Prague during a protest in June 2021
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Monday with Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who urged greater pressure on the regime that she says rigged last year's elections.

Blinken joined a meeting between Tikhanovskaya and State Department number three Victoria Nuland, known as a forceful critic of Moscow, in a show of support a day before the Belarusian opposition chief holds meetings at the White House.

"I thanked him for supporting Belarusian democratic aspirations," Tikhanovskaya wrote afterward on Twitter.

"I called on (the United States) to strengthen help for our civil society, economically and politically pressure the regime, and appeal to Russia to play a constructive role in the crisis resolution," she said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken and Tikhanovskaya "discussed the ongoing repression, the crackdown" by President Alexander Lukashenko.

The United States will "continue our efforts to stand with the Belarusian people and their aspirations for human rights, democracy and their broader Euro-Atlantic aspirations," Price told reporters.

President Joe Biden has vowed to ramp up pressure on Lukashenko, an ally of Moscow who has been in power for nearly three decades and whose security forces have put down mass protests following the announcement that he secured a sixth term.

Tikhanovskaya, until then a stay-at-home mother, ran in place of her husband who was detained before the election and claimed to have easily won.

The United States, European Union, Britain and Canada last month jointly imposed new sanctions on Belarus after a Ryanair passenger flight was grounded in Minsk on the pretext of a security threat, with authorities arresting an opposition activist and his girlfriend who were on board.

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