Polish deputy speaker under fire over comments on Belarus opposition leader

A deputy Polish parliamentary speaker faced calls for his dismissal on Saturday after criticising Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya for meeting Warsaw’s liberal mayor.

Tsikhanouskaya met Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a member of Poland’s biggest opposition party, during a visit to Warsaw this week which she used to call for increased Western pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Poland’s nationalist government is critical of Lukashenko, who has cracked down on his opponents, and Warsaw has voiced support for the Belarusian opposition.

But in comments that did not appear to chime with the government’s position, deputy parliamentary speaker Ryszard Terlecki, a senior member of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, condemned her meeting with Trzaskowski.

“If Tsikhanouskaya wants to advertise the anti-democratic opposition in Poland and speak at Trzaskowski’s meeting, let her look for help in Moscow, and let us support a Belarusian opposition that is not on the side of our opponents,” he wrote on Twitter late on Friday.

Tsikhanouskaya, who is now based in Lithuania, told private broadcaster TVN24 she found Terlecki’s tweet “strange” and that it was “not fair to the Belarusian people.”

Borys Budka, who heads the main opposition grouping Civic Platform, said he had hoped for an apology from Terlecki but he had gone on writing “nonsense”.

“That is why we are submitting a motion to dismiss him from the post of Deputy Speaker of the Sejm (lower house),” Budka wrote on Twitter.

A PiS spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia is Lukashenko’s main ally. It has stood by him despite an international outcry over his crackdown on opponents and an incident last month in which Belarus scrambled a warplane to force a jetliner to land in Minsk and arrested a dissident journalist who was on board.

Michal Szczerba, a member of Civic Platform, told Reuters support for a free Belarus should transcend national disputes and Tsikhanouskaya should be able to meet whoever she wants “to call for help for her country.”

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