US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Monday, as Washington said it will continue its efforts to stand with the Belarusian people and their aspirations for human rights and democracy.
A huge opposition movement led by Ms Svetlana in Belarus is demanding new, democratic leadership and economic reform. They say last year's elections were rigged by the government.
Mr Blinken joined a meeting between Ms Tikhanovskaya and State Department number three Victoria Nuland, known for being a critic of Moscow, in a show of support a day before the Belarusian opposition leader attends meetings at the White House.
“I thanked him for supporting Belarusian democratic aspirations,” Ms Tikhanovskaya wrote afterwards on Twitter.
“I called on [the US] to strengthen help for our civil society, economically and politically pressure the regime, and appeal to Russia to play a constructive role in the crisis resolution,” she said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Mr Blinken and Ms Tikhanovskaya “discussed the ongoing repression, the crackdown” by President Alexander Lukashenko.
The US will “continue our efforts to stand with the Belarusian people and their aspirations for human rights, democracy and their broader Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Mr Price told reporters.
President Joe Biden has vowed to ramp up pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Moscow who has been in power for nearly three decades and whose security forces quelled mass protests following the announcement that he had secured a sixth term.
Mr Tikhanovskaya, until then a stay-at-home mother, ran in place of her husband who was detained before the election, which officials said President Lukashenko won by a “landslide".
The US, EU, Britain and Canada last month jointly imposed new sanctions on Belarus after a Ryanair passenger flight was grounded in Minsk on the pretext of a security threat, with authorities then arresting an opposition activist and his girlfriend who were on board.
President Lukashenko later claimed that the activist and journalist, Roman Protasevich, had been plotting a rebellion.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya claimed that Mr Protasevich had been beaten and tortured in jail.
She said a lawyer visited Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega in jail. The lawyer said he was fine “but it’s doubtful, because for sure he was tortured, for sure he was beaten”, Ms Tsikhanouskaya said.