Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko was abruptly sworn in for his sixth term as president on Wednesday as mass protests against his controversial election victory last month continue to rage the country.
In an unannounced ceremony in the presidential palace in the state capital Minsk, around 700 guests watched as Lukashenko put his right hand on a copy of the constitution and swore the oath of office, reported the state news agency Belta.
“There is a lot of pride in Belarusians who have honored the test of strength, especially their convictions,” said Lukashenko, who has been in control of power in the former Soviet nation for 26 years from Belta.
“This is the day of our collective victory, compelling and fateful. We didn’t just elect the country’s president – we defended our values, our peaceful lives, our sovereignty and independence. And we still have a lot to do in this regard. “
The ceremony, which was not broadcast on state television, took place in central Minsk on Wednesday amid a gathering of equipment and military personnel, according to a report by Belarusian news agency tut.by. The capital’s main streets were also said to be blocked, with the exception of the Presidential Commission, which drove to the Independence Palace, where the ceremony later took place.
This came against the background of mass protests of hundreds of thousands against the August 9 election result, which continue to take place regularly every weekend in cities across the country, including Minsk.
The demonstrations were faced with violent raids and mass arrests. Many of those detained said they had been ill-treated while in custody – a claim that Lukahenko’s government did not directly comment on.
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Opposition leaders were quick to condemn his inauguration.
Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who protesters claim to have defeated Lukashenko in the elections, said he tried to “identify himself as legitimate” in a post on Telegram messaging app.
“People haven’t given him a new mandate,” added the former English teacher, who emerged from the darkness a few months ago after her husband was prevented from walking and thrown in jail. She has since fled to Lithuania for security reasons.
“This means that his orders to power structures are no longer legitimate and can no longer be carried out,” her message continued. “I, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, am the only leader elected by the Belarusian people. And our task now is to build a new Belarus together.”
Another opposition, Pavel Latushko, who had also fled the country, said Lukashenko’s inauguration was like a secret “meeting of thieves”.
“Where are the cheering citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps? “He posted on social media:” It is obvious that Alexander Lukashenko is solely the president of OMON (riot police) and a handful of lying officials. “
He also called for a civil demonstration of disobedience.
Lukashenko has denied alleged police violence against demonstrators and accused demonstrators of being manipulated by foreign powers.
While trying to stir up fears of NATO building on the country’s western border, he sought support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last week granted Lukashenko a $ 1.5 billion loan.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the swearing in was “absolutely the sovereign decision of the Belarusian leadership”.
When asked if Putin had been invited, he said it looked like the presence of foreign leaders was not provided.