French President Emmanuel Macron said Belarus's leader Alexander Lukashenko has to step down, in comments to a French weekly published on Sunday.
"It's clear he has to go," he told the Journal du Dimanche, speaking days after the European Union refused to recognise Lukashenko as the country's legitimate president.
"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," he said.
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.
He recently triggered new demonstrations and fresh Western criticism after holding a secret inauguration for himself.
Macron on Sunday said he had been "impressed by the courage of the protesters" in Belarus.
"They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long," he said.
"Women in particular, who march every Saturday, command our respect," he added.
More than 90 people -- most of them women -- were arrested on Saturday at opposition rallies, one NGO said.
The EU on Thursday said Lukashenko's inauguration lacked "democratic legitimacy" and refused to recognise him as president.
Brussels is reviewing its relations with the country, the bloc's diplomatic chief has said.
EU ministers decided in principle last month to impose sanctions against the regime, but Cyprus has been blocking approval until the bloc agrees similar measures against Turkey over gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
On Friday, EU Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia expanded their own sanctions against Belarus.
The issue will be debated during an EU summit on October 1-2 in Brussels.