Wed, 28 Oct 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron said Belarus' leader Alexander Lukashenko has to step down, in comments to a French weekly published on Sunday.

"It's clear he has to go," he told Le Journal du Dimanche, speaking days after the European Union refused to recognise Lukashenko as the country's legitimate president.

"It is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that cannot accept the logic of democracy and which is hanging on by force. It is clear that Lukashenko has to go," Macron said.

READ | Women in Belarus take protests into their own hands

The news comes as Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei accused Western countries of attempting to sow "chaos and anarchy" in the former Soviet republic.

"We are seeing attempts to destabilise the situation in the country," he told the United Nations General Assembly in a video statement.

"Interference in our internal affairs, sanctions and other restrictions on Belarus will have the opposite effect, and are harmful for absolutely everyone."

'Impressive courage of the protesters'

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Belarus since the country's 9 August elections, which opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she won, despite Lukashenko's insistence he took a landslide victory.

The embattled leader has launched a brutal crackdown against the protesters, with an estimated 12 000 people arrested - drawing condemnation from the West, but support from Moscow.

Lukashenko recently triggered new demonstrations and fresh Western criticism after holding a secret inauguration for himself.

Macron on Sunday said he had been "impressed by the courage of the protesters" in Belarus.

"They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long," he said.

"Women in particular, who march every Saturday, command our respect," he added.

More than 90 people - most of them women - were arrested on Saturday at opposition rallies, one NGO said.

The EU on Thursday said Lukashenko's inauguration lacked "democratic legitimacy" and refused to recognise him as president.

Brussels is reviewing its relations with the country, the bloc's diplomatic chief has said.

EU ministers decided in principle last month to impose sanctions against the government, but Cyprus has been blocking approval until the bloc agrees on similar measures against Turkey over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

On Friday, EU Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia expanded their own sanctions against Belarus.

The issue will be debated during an EU summit from 1 - 2 October in Brussels.

The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are also expected to impose sanctions soon on Belarusian individuals over what those governments view as a rigged election and violence against peaceful protesters, sources have told Reuters.

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