France is stepping up the pressure on Belarus’ long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko, with President Emmanuel Macron warning “Lukashenko must go.” The European Union said on Thursday it does not recognise Lukashenko as president of Belarus because of large-scale protests by Belarusians, who question the results of last month’s presidential election.
Opposition members and some poll workers in Belarus say the vote, which Lukashenko claims gave him an overwhelming victory, was rigged.
Hundreds of thousands have been protesting daily since the election in the capital city, Minsk.
Around 100,000 were on the streets for the 50th consecutive day on Sunday, ahead of Macron's trip to Lithuania and Latvia on Monday.
Macron was quoted in Sunday’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper as saying “it’s clear that Lukashenko must go.”
“What’s happening in Belarus is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that can’t manage to accept the logic of democracy and is clinging on by force,” the newspaper quotes Macron as saying. In a speech Saturday to the virtual UN General Assembly, Belarus’ foreign minister warned Western nations against interfering or imposing sanctions over the country’s disputed presidential election and the government’s violent crackdown on protesters.
Protests also took place in nine other cities, underlining the wide extent of dismay and anger with President Alexander Lukashenko, who has stifled opposition and independent news media during his 26 years in power. Mr Lukashenko has defied calls for him to step down and many prominent members of a council formed with the aim of arranging a transfer of power have been arrested or have fled the country. The protests have persisted despite the daily detentions of demonstrators.
The Interior Ministry said that about 200 demonstrators were arrested throughout the country on Sunday.
Police and troops blocked off the centre of Minsk with armoured vehicles and water cannons.