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Macron wants Belarus opposition to join G7 summit, but host UK says no such plan

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Flags are placed at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

PARIS, May 25 (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron would like to invite the Belarusian opposition to the Group of Seven summit due to be held next month in Cornwall, if host country Britain agrees, the French presidency said on Tuesday.

But a British government spokeswoman said there were no plans at the moment to invite "further national participants to the G7 Summit", adding that the leaders would discuss "Belarus' reckless and dangerous behaviour".

Western countries are keen to show their support for opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after authorities in Minsk forced down a passenger plane on Sunday and arrested a dissident journalist on board. read more

A French presidential official said Macron wanted to invite exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to speak at one of the "outreach" sessions, during which outside personalities can address the G7 leaders.

"The G7 is a club of democracies and it is important in the current context to support opponents of Lukashenko's regime," the French official said, adding that Macron was open to inviting the Belarus opposition if host Britain agreed to it.

Macron became the highest-profile Western leader to meet Tsikhanouskaya last September. Her supporters say she won Belarus' contested presidential election last August, a claim Lukashenko denies.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, a member state of the European Union that borders Belarus, thanked Macron for his call to have the Belarusian opposition invited to the G7 summit.

In Germany, Armin Laschet, leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party, supported the idea after speaking to Tsikhanouskaya by telephone.

"If London, the British hosts, agree, I back this request because it is important that the G7 gets involved in this unique occurrence," Laschet, who hopes to succeed Merkel as chancellor after a September federal election.

He added that federal prosecutors in Germany were considering a request from 10 Belarusians to open a criminal investigation against Lukashenko for alleged crimes against humanity. read more

Airlines were shunning Belarusian air space on Tuesday and the country's planes face a possible European ban following the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk on Sunday and the arrest of 26-year-old journalist Roman Protasevich.

The G7 groups the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.

Britain holds the G7 rotating presidency this year and has scheduled the summit for June 11-13 in the southwestern English county of Cornwall.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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