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In Vilnius, Macron meets exiled Belarus opposition leader

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VILNIUS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron met Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in Vilnius on Tuesday on the second day of a visit to Baltic countries meant to reassure them about French commitment to their security;

Tsikhanouskaya said Macron promised her to help negotiate with the Belarus authorities and secure the release of the political prisoners.

“He promised us to do everything to help with negotiations, (during) this political crisis in our country ... and he will do everything to help to release all the political prisoners”, Tsikhanouskaya told reporters in English after the meeting in Vilnius.

On Monday, on his first day in Vilnius, where Tsikhanouskaya fled into exile, Macron urged Belarus authorities to stop unlawful arrests, release protesters detained arbitrarily and respect election results.

He had urged Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to go on Sunday, hardening his stance as tens of thousands marched in Belarus for a seventh straight weekend to demand Lukashenko quit.

Tsikhanouskaya fled Belarus after the Aug. 9 election that the opposition said was rigged.

Macron is expected later in the day to visit French soldiers serving as part of a NATO battlegroup in the Lithuanian town of Rukla.

The French leader is keen to reassure Baltic countries that his policy of “strategic dialogue” with Russia, initiated about a year ago, and his criticism of NATO, does not mean weaker French commitment to the security of eastern European countries.

EU countries that escaped Moscow’s orbit after the Cold War have criticised Macron’s stance towards Russia. They say little has changed to merit a thaw in relations on ice since Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

Reporting by Andrius Sytas and Ardee Napolitano in Vilnius; writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten