Ex­iled politi­cian holds Canada dear, Cham­pagne says

National Post (National Edition) - - WORLD - MIKE BLANCHFIEL­D

OTTAWA • The ex­iled op­po­si­tion leader of Be­larus holds Canada in her heart for its sup­port of her em­bat­tled coun­try’s pro-democ­racy move­ment, For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter François-Philippe Cham­pagne said Fri­day af­ter meet­ing her.

Cham­pagne met with Svi­at­lana Tsikhanous­kaya in the Lithua­nian cap­i­tal of Vil­nius, where she fled fol­low­ing an Au­gust pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that Canada and its al­lies have called fraud­u­lent.

It was their fifth con­ver­sa­tion but first face-to-face meet­ing since she sought refuge af­ter ral­ly­ing sup­port against the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader of her coun­try, Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Lukashenko, who claimed a sixth term in of­fice in Au­gust in a widely dis­cred­ited elec­tion.

Cham­pagne first called Tsikhanous­kaya in Au­gust, and has since worked with his Bri­tish coun­ter­part, Do­minic Raab to level sanc­tions against Lukashenko, his fam­ily and min­is­ters in re­sponse to their vi­o­lent clam­p­down on the pro-democ­racy move­ment that has taken root in Be­larus.

Cham­pagne said that Tsikhanous­kaya told him Canada’s early sup­port was “piv­otal” in her ef­forts to keep fight­ing for democ­racy.

“It was a very spe­cial mo­ment. Some­times you do things and you don’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate the im­pact,” Cham­pagne said in a tele­con­fer­ence from Vil­nius.

“I think she holds Canada and our in­ter­ven­tion very high in her heart be­cause we were there since Day 1, and we have been con­sis­tently en­gag­ing with her, en­gag­ing with the move­ment, sup­port­ing them at ev­ery step of the way.”

The U.S. and the Euro­pean Union have also 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.

Cham­pagne wrapped a four-coun­try Euro­pean tour that fo­cused on ma­jor con­ti­nen­tal se­cu­rity is­sues such as Be­larus, the fight­ing in Nagorno-Karabakh and the mar­itime bound­ary dis­pute be­tween Turkey and Greece.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was also work­ing the phones Fri­day in sup­port of Cham­pagne’s ef­forts in Europe to bring the Azer­bai­jani and Ar­me­nian com­bat­ants in Nagorno-Karabakh to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Trudeau planned to de­liver that mes­sage to Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan as well. Turkey sup­ports Azer­bai­jan in its fight with Ar­me­nia over an area a lit­tle smaller than Prince Ed­ward Is­land that’s in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized as part of Azer­bai­jan but with an eth­nic Ar­me­nian ma­jor­ity.

Trudeau also spoke Fri­day with Ar­me­nian Prime Min­is­ter Nikol Pashinyan to of­fer his sup­port.

Ten­sions be­tween Canada and Turkey, a NATO ally, are also high be­cause the Trudeau gov­ern­ment sus­pended mil­i­tary ex­port per­mits to Turkey ear­lier this month. Cham­pagne ordered an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether a tar­get­ing sen­sor made by an On­tario com­pany and sold to Turkey is be­ing used in Azer­bai­jani drones in at­tacks against Ar­me­nian civil­ians.

Cham­pagne trav­elled to Greece ear­lier this week and has agreed to help me­di­ate a so­lu­tion to its standoff with Turkey over a dis­puted mar­itime bound­ary in the east­ern Mediter­ranean. Ten­sions have risen in that dis­pute this week af­ter Turkey de­ployed a re­search ship, Oruc Reis, into the dis­puted wa­ters.

“Canada was at the heart of all the key dis­cus­sions in Europe this week,” said Cham­pagne.

PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

François-Philippe Cham­pagne met Svet­lana Tikhanovsk­aya, ex­iled from Be­larus, in Lithua­nia.

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