Belarus opposition leader joins Berlin protest ahead of Merkel meeting

Berlin (AFP) –

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Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged protesters to keep up their fight against strongman Alexander Lukashenko after she arrived in Berlin Monday for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"This, our struggle, has not only united the Belarusians in our homeland but in the whole world," Tikhanovskaya told several dozen demonstrators waving red-and-white banners and placards in the German capital Monday evening.

Tikhanovskaya, who claimed victory in a disputed August 9 election, fled Belarus soon afterwards and has sought to rally international pressure on the Minsk regime, as protests continue on the streets of Belarus.

She met French President Emmanuel Macron in Lithuania last week, she is due to meet Merkel on Tuesday.

"We will talk about the situation in Belarus and I think we, two women, will always know what to talk about," Tikhanovskaya told AFP.

Merkel, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has said Germany does not recognise Lukashenko as the winner of the vote and condemned the government's violence against protesters.

"I learned today that the Belarusians in Berlin, but also in other German cities, hardly knew each other before," Tikhanovskaya told the crowd.

"But this summer, Belarus and Belarusians have united.

"We don't know how long this struggle will last but we need your help. The government has not heard us for 26 years and it does not hear us now," she added.

The United States and the EU hit Belarus officials with long-awaited sanctions on Friday, drawing an angry response from Minsk and its ally Moscow.

Tikhanovskaya only joined the political fray after her husband Sergei -- a popular blogger -- was barred from registering as a presidential candidate and arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government.

The 38-year-old has met with leaders in Poland and Lithuania, but her talks with Macron have been the most high profile to date.