President of Belarus inaugurated in unannounced ceremony, despite ongoing protests
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus began his sixth term of office Wednesday during an inauguration ceremony that officials did not announce in advance after weeks of mass protests against his reelection, which opposition activists maintain was rigged.
State news agency Belta reported that Lukashenko’s swearing-in ceremony took place in the capital of Minsk with several hundred top government officials, lawmakers, representatives of media organizations and other prominent figures present.
Lukashenko, 66, took an oath in Belarusian with his right hand on the country’s Constitution. The head of the country’s central election commission handed him the official ID card of the president of Belarus.
“The day of assuming the post of the president is the day of our victory, convincing and fateful,” Lukashenko said at the ceremony. “We were not just electing the president of the country — we were defending our values, our peaceful life, sovereignty and independence.”
Opponents in Belarus, including the second-place finisher in the presidential election, and representatives of European governments said the absence of public involvement in the inauguration only proved that the authoritarian Lukashenko lacked a valid mandate.
“Even after this ceremony today, Mr. Lukashenko cannot claim democratic legitimization, which would be the condition to recognize him as the legitimate president of Belarus,” Steffen Seibert, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, said. He called the secrecy “very telling.”
Lukashenko has run Belarus, an ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million people, with an iron fist for 26 years. Official results of the Aug. 9 election had him winning 80% of the vote. His strongest opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got 10%.
Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in neighboring Lithuania after being forced to leave Belarus, has not accepted the outcome of the election as valid. Neither have the thousands of Belarusians who continue to demand Lukashenko’s resignation during more than six weeks of mass protests.
Tsikhanouskaya called the inauguration an attempt by Lukashenko to “declare himself legitimate.” She said “the people haven’t handed him a new mandate.”
“I, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, am the only leader that has been elected by the Belarusian people. And our goal right now is to build the new Belarus together,” she said in a video statement from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.
Detainees swept up in protest against Belarus president describe harrowing jailhouse abuse. Major rights group deems some of it torture.
The United States and the European Union have questioned the election and criticized the brutal police crackdown on peaceful protesters during the first few days of demonstrations.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius called Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony “such a farce.”
“Forged elections. Forged inauguration. The former president of Belarus does not become less former. Quite the contrary. His illegitimacy is a fact with all the consequences that this entails,” Linkevicius said on Twitter.
The time and location of the inauguration ceremony were not publicized in advance. Law enforcement officers blocked off central areas of Minsk on Wednesday morning, and public transportation services were suspended.
Poll workers in Belarus are coming forward with details of vote-rigging in the Aug. 9 election that has kept President Alexander Lukashenko in power.
The Viasna human rights group said several protesters were detained near the Palace of Independence, where the ceremony took place, holding banners saying, “The king has no clothes” and “The victory [will belong to] the people.”
Alexander Klaskousky, an independent Minsk-based analyst, said the secrecy surrounding the president’s inauguration illustrated the threat the ongoing unrest poses to Lukashenko’s grip on power. “Those who officially [get] 80% of the votes don’t act like that,” Klaskousky said.
Many leaders of the opposition on the streets have been arrested or forced to leave the country. One leading activist, Pavel Latushko, compared Lukashenko’s inauguration to a “gathering of thieves.”
“For us, the citizens of Belarus, for the international community, he is a nobody. An unfortunate error of history and a disgrace of the civilized world,” Latushko said on the messaging app Telegram. “We will never agree with the falsification [of the election] and are demanding a new vote. We urge everyone to engage in indefinite civil disobedience!”
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