Biden 'honored' to meet Belarusian opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya attends a meeting with German Federal Government's Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Gruetters (not pictured) during 'Berlinale Summer Special' film festival in Berlin, Germany June 11, 2021. Christoph Soeder/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden met with Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Wednesday and expressed support for democracy and human rights in the former Soviet republic.

"I was honored to meet with @Tsihanouskaya at the White House this morning. The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights," Biden wrote in a Twitter post.

Tsikhanouskaya has pressed for stronger action from the United States against President Alexander Lukashenko's government during a visit to the country. She met earlier with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the top U.S. diplomat, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Last week, she asked U.S. officials to impose sanctions on companies in her country's potash, oil, wood and steel sectors.

"Thank you, @POTUS, for a powerful sign of solidarity with millions of fearless Belarusians who are peacefully fighting for their freedom. Today, Belarus is on the frontline of the battle between democracy and autocracy. The world stands with us. Belarus will be a success story," Tsikhanouskaya wrote in her own Twitter post.

Tsikhanouskaya was meeting again with Sullivan on Wednesday morning when Biden dropped by briefly, a senior administration official said. It was an opportunity for the U.S. president to express his support for the people of Belarus in person, the official said.

Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus since 1994 and cracked down on peaceful street protests that began over a disputed presidential election last August.

Tsikhanouskaya, 38, was a candidate in the election instead of her husband Sergei Tsikhanouskiy, a video blogger who has been jailed since May 2020 on charges such as violating public order, which he denies. Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighboring Lithuania after Lukashenko's crackdown.

In June, the United States, the European Union and Britain imposed sweeping sanctions on Belarusian entities and officials, and called on Minsk "to end its repressive practices against its own people."

The allies, along with Canada, also told Lukashenko's administration to cooperate with investigations into the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Belarus in May to arrest a reporter and his girlfriend on board.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

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