EU chief Michel talks to Putin on Belarus crisis

Telegram från AFP / Omni
18 aug. 2020, 15.33

EU chief Charles Michel held telephone talks on Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Belarus as the West seeks to prevent the crisis from escalating.

Michel, who heads the EU Council, spoke to the Russian leader on the eve of an emergency summit of the bloc's leaders to discuss Belarus, where protests are growing against President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed re-election.

"I just discussed the situation in #Belarus with President Putin of Russia @KremlinRussia_E. Only peaceful and truly inclusive dialogue can resolve the crisis in Belarus," Michel tweeted.

An EU official said Michel used the 30-minute call to voice concerns about the August 9 elections and the violence which Lukashenko's forces have used against protesters.

Michel and Putin also discussed how to encourage dialogue to bring the crisis to a peaceful conclusion, the official said.

Strongman Lukashenko is under pressure to step down after 10 days of protests and strikes over his claim to have won a sixth term in the vote and a brutal police crackdown on post-election protests.

Western powers are stepping up pressure on Russia, Lukashenko's key ally, not to intervene to prop him up after the Kremlin said it was ready to send troops if needed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday called Putin to tell him Belarus must stop dispersing peaceful protests with force, release detainees and negotiate with Lukashenko's critics.

Authorities must "enter into a national dialogue with the opposition and society to overcome the crisis," Merkel said, according to a spokesperson.

Belarus saw its largest street demonstrations over the weekend since it gained independence from the Soviet Union, with more than 100,000 people taking to the streets of the capital to demand Lukashenko stand down after 26 years in power.

In the police crackdown, more than 6,700 people were arrested, hundreds wounded and two people died.