French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said that Belarus's leader Alexander Lukashenko must step down, after the EU refused to recognise him as the legitimate president of the ex-Soviet country.
"It's clear he has to go," Macron told French weekly the Journal du Dimanche ahead of a trip to EU states Lithuania and Latvia, which border Belarus.
"It is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that cannot accept the logic of democracy and which is hanging on by force. It is clear that Lukashenko has to go."
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Belarus since August 9 elections which opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says she won, despite Lukashenko's insistence he took a landslide victory.
The embattled leader has launched a brutal crackdown against the protesters -- drawing condemnation from the West, but support from Moscow.
This week he triggered new demonstrations and fresh Western criticism when he held a secret inauguration for himself for the sixth term.
Macron yesterday said he had been "impressed by the courage of the protesters". More than 90 people -- most of them women -- were arrested on Saturday at opposition rallies, according to one NGO.
EU ministers decided in principle last month to impose sanctions against the regime.
Russia is Lukashenko's biggest financial and diplomatic backer, and President Vladimir Putin has promised Belarus law enforcement backup if needed, as well as a $1.5-billion loan.