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Merkel: Belarusian government must avoid violence and start national dialogue

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bavarian State Premier Markus Soeder attend a news conference after a Bavarian state cabinet meeting at Herrenchiemsee Island, Germany, July 14, 2020. Peter Kneffel/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Tuesday about the situation in Belarus and made clear that the Belarusian government must avoid using force against peaceful protesters, her spokesman said.

“The chancellor stressed that the Belarusian government must avoid violence towards peaceful demonstrators, immediately release political prisoners and start a national dialogue with the opposition and society in order to overcome the crisis,” Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

Alexander Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus, faces the threat of European Union sanctions after a bloody crackdown on protests following what demonstrators say was his rigged re-election victory last week. He cites official results that gave him just over 80% of the vote.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Madeline Chambers