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Champagne meets Belarus’s exiled opposition, as Trudeau talks to Armenian leader

Written by on October 16, 2020

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will ask Turkey’s president to help bring Azerbaijan and Armenian combatants to the negotiating table.

Trudeau says he will deliver that message to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later today.

Trudeau spoke earlier Friday with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. 

Turkey supports Azerbaijan in its fight with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh — an area a little smaller than Prince Edward Island that’s internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but with an ethnic Armenian majority.

Trudeau’s calls come as Canada’s top diplomat continues a European tour that has focused on Nagorno-Karabakh and other European security issues.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne met in Lithuania with the exiled opposition leader of Belarus on Friday.

Champagne met with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled her home country after an August election that Champagne has called “fraudulent.”

The U.S. and the European Union have denounced the election as neither free nor fair, and introduced sanctions against the officials they say are responsible for vote-rigging and a subsequent crackdown on protests.

Top European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have also met with Tsikhanouskaya.

This was the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years.

Following the meeting in Vilnius, Champagne told the exiled opposition leader that “Canada will always be on your side.”

“In fact I believe you can expect that entire international community will be together with you and the people of Belarus for the democratic future of your country,” Champagne said.

From Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya has warned the government in Minsk that she will call a nationwide strike in Belarus later this month unless President Alexander Lukashenko, who got a sixth term in office in August, resigns, releases political prisoners and stops his government’s violent crackdown on protesters.

On Friday, Belarusian authorities announced that they have issued an arrest warrant for Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the elections, accusing her of “attempts to overthrow constitutional order” and threatening Belarus’ national security.

The announcement follows reports that she was on the wanted list in Russia. Moscow has staunchly backed Lukashenko amid two months of protests that denounced the election as rigged. Moscow has refused to talk to Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition activists.

Champagne is also meeting his counterparts from Lithuania and its Baltic neighbours to the north — Estonia and Latvia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.

— with files from The Associated Press

The Canadian Press