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Macron tells Putin to talk to Belarus opposition leader

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron stands during a meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France September 30, 2020. Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - Emmanuel Macron told Vladimir Putin that the Belarusian opposition leader was open to dialogue and the Russian president should talk to her, the French presidency said on Thursday.

Macron spoke to Putin by telephone after visiting exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the first leader of a major Western power to meet her in person.

“President Macron ... recalled that she was open to dialogue with Russia and encouraged President Putin to take it into consideration,” the French leader’s office said.

It added that Putin and Macron shared the idea that the best way forward was to resort to mediation by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Belarus is a close Russian ally, and Moscow has firmly backed veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko, who was declared the winner of an Aug. 9 presidential election which Western countries and the opposition say was rigged.

Since the vote, Belarus has seen mass demonstrations against Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. Thousands of people have been arrested and all major opposition figures have been jailed or driven into exile. Lukashenko denies election fraud and says the crisis is a result of Western meddling.

In its readout of the call with Macron, the Kremlin said Putin had spoken against outside interference in the Belarus crisis.

“The Russian leader reaffirmed the position of principle that any interference in the internal affairs of the sovereign state and external pressure on the legitimate authorities is unacceptable.”

(The story corrects spelling of Tsikhanouskaya in paragraph 2)

Reporting by Michel Rose and Maxim Rodionov; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff