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President of Belarus Inaugurated       09/23 06:10

   

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus assumed his 
sixth term of office Wednesday during an inauguration ceremony that officials 
did not announce in advance after weeks of mass protests against the 
authoritarian leader's reelection, which opposition activists maintain was 
rigged.

   State news agency Beltra reported that the 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, and 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."

   Lukashenko has run Belarus, an ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million, with an iron 
fist for 26 years. Official results of the country's Aug. 9 presidential 
election had him winning 80% of the vote. His strongest opponent, Sviatlana 
Tsikhanouskaya, got 10%.

   Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile after being forced to leave Belarus, has not 
accepted the outcome of the election as valid. Neither have the thousands of 
her supporters who continued demanding Lukashenko's resignation during more 
than six weeks of mass protests.

   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.

   Protests demanding Lukashenko to resign have rocked the country daily since 
last month's election, with the largest rallies in Minsk attracting up to 
200,000 people.

   During the first three days of the protests, police used truncheons and 
rubber bullets to disperse crowds. Several protesters died, and more than 7,000 
were detained.

   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.

   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.

   "The secret inauguration illustrates the level of trust of the leader in the 
official results of the election and in the people. Those who officially got 
80% of the votes don't act like that," Klaskousky said.

   "Lukashenko received rebelling people as a gift from who he needs to hide 
during the inauguration, fearing mass protests," he said.

   Lukashenko has bristled at suggestions of dialogue with the opposition. Amid 
international outrage, Belarusian authorities switched to prosecuting top 
activists and mass detentions, avoiding large-scale violence.

   Many members of the Coordination Council that was formed by the opposition 
to push for a transition of power have been arrested or forced to leave the 
country.

   A prominent Coordination Council member, Pavel Latushko, compared the 
inauguration to a "gathering of thieves" and refused to recognize Lukashenko as 
the president of Belarus.

   "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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