Belarus: Lukashenko inaugurated in unannounced ceremony


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A motorcade transporting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko before his inauguration ceremony, drives along a road in Minsk, September 23, 2020

image copyrightReuters

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election in a disputed poll last month led to weeks of mass protests, has been inaugurated for a sixth term in an unannounced ceremony.

State media said several hundred people attended the ceremony at the Palace of Independence in central Minsk.

Streets were sealed off as Mr Lukashenko’s motorcade raced through the city, witnesses said.

One opposition politician likened the event to a secret “thieves’ meeting”.

Presidential inaugurations are normally publicised well in advance as major state occasions.

Instead, state news agency Belta reported on Wednesday: “Alexander Lukashenko has taken office as President of Belarus. The inauguration ceremony is taking place in these minutes in the Palace of Independence.”

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Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic for 26 years, said Belarus needed security and consensus “on the brink of a global crisis”, an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Belta reported.

“I cannot, I have no right to abandon the Belarusians,” he added.

Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office as Belarusian President during a swearing-in ceremony in Minsk, Belarus September 23

image copyrightReuters

How has the opposition reacted?

His main political rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania amid mass arrests, said Mr Lukashenko “after today is neither a legal nor a legitimate head of Belarus”.

Fellow opposition politician Pavel Latushko posted on social media: “Where are the jubilant citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps?”

“It is obvious that Alexander Lukashenko is exclusively the president of the Omon (riot police) and a handful of lying officials.”

He called for “an indefinite action of civil disobedience”.

The opposition Nexta Live channel on the Telegram messaging app called for street protests from 18:00 local time (15:00 GMT) and urged drivers to block roads and create traffic jams.

“Starting from this very day, he [Lukashenko] officially becomes a bandit and fraudster who is not recognised anywhere in the civilised world,” the channel said.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius described the inauguration as a “farce” and “illegitimate” on Twitter.

What is the background?

Mr Lukashenko, 66, claimed a sixth term as president in the widely disputed election of 9 August. He insisted that he had won fairly with 80% of the vote and depicted the protests against him as a Western-backed plot. Earlier this month, he secured a $1.5bn (£1.2bn) loan from Russia.

Ms Tikhanovskaya claims to have won 60-70% in places where votes were properly counted.

Many opposition figures are now in self-imposed exile in neighbouring countries amid a wave of arrests.

Despite the crackdown, anti-government protests show no signs of diminishing. On Sunday, a crowd of about 100,000 people staged another rally in the capital, demanding that Mr Lukashenko step down.

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