Lukashenko sworn in as Be­larus pres­i­dent, op­po­si­tion protests

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE - MINSK -AFP

Ig­nor­ing calls for an end to his 26-year grip on power, Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Lukashenko of Be­larus was sworn in for a sixth term on Wed­nes­day af­ter an elec­tion that the op­po­si­tion and sev­eral for­eign gov­ern­ments say was rigged.

The cer­e­mony would nor­mally have been pub­li­cised as a ma­jor state oc­ca­sion but was in­stead held with­out warn­ing fol­low­ing Lukashenko's claim of a land­slide vic­tory in the Aug. 9 elec­tion.

The op­po­si­tion, which has staged more than six weeks of mass protests de­mand­ing his res­ig­na­tion, de­nounced the in­au­gu­ra­tion as il­le­git­i­mate and called for more demon­stra­tions on Wed­nes­day evening. The United States and Euro­pean Union are draw­ing up sanc­tions against of­fi­cials in­volved in the elec­tion and a sub­se­quent crack­down by the se­cu­rity forces.

The of­fi­cial news agency Belta said Lukashenko placed his right hand on a copy of the con­sti­tu­tion and swore the oath of of­fice at a cer­e­mony at­tended by sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple. The 66- year- old leader said the coun­try needed safety and con­sen­sus "on the brink of a global cri­sis", an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to the COVID-19 pan­demic.

"I can­not, I have no right to aban­don the Be­laru­sians," he said. Protesters car­ry­ing red-and-white op­po­si­tion flags be­gan gath­er­ing in small groups in the cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing out­side at least three uni­ver­si­ties, lo­cal me­dia footage showed. Calls cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia for mass protests for the evening.

Some chanted "Sasha, come out, we'll con­grat­u­late you!", re­fer­ring to the diminu­tive form of Lukashenko's first name. Ru­mours had swept Minsk that the 66-yearold leader, in power since 1994, was pre­par­ing for a snap in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony when a mo­tor­cade swept through the cen­tre of the cap­i­tal ear­lier on Wed­nes­day.

An op­po­si­tion politi­cian, Pavel La­tushko, said the swear­ing-in was like a se­cret "thieves' meet­ing". "Where are the ju­bi­lant cit­i­zens?

Where is the diplo­matic corps?" he posted on so­cial me­dia. "It is ob­vi­ous that Alexan­der Lukashenko is ex­clu­sively the pres­i­dent of the OMON (riot po­lice) and a hand­ful of ly­ing of­fi­cials."

La­tushko called for "an in­def­i­nite ac­tion of civil dis­obe­di­ence". Ger­many re­it­er­ated that it did not recog­nise Lukashenko as pres­i­dent and called for EU sanc­tions to be agreed as soon as pos­si­ble. Lithua­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Li­nas Linke­vi­cius said on Twit­ter: "Such a farce. For­get elec­tions... His il­le­git­i­macy is a fact with all the con­se­quences that this en­tails".

Lukashenko, tak­ing the oath for a new five-year term, promised to "faith­fully serve the peo­ple of the Repub­lic of Be­larus, re­spect and pro­tect the rights and free­doms of the per­son and of the cit­i­zen" and de­fend the con­sti­tu­tion.

He has so far with­stood the protests with back­ing from his ally, Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia.

De­spite its pop­u­la­tion of only 9.5 mil­lion, Be­larus mat­ters to Rus­sia as a buf­fer state against

NATO and a con­duit for Rus­sian ex­ports of oil and gas. At a sum­mit last week, Putin granted Lukashenko a $1.5 bil­lion loan, and the two coun­tries are hold­ing "Slavic Brother­hood" de­fence ex­er­cises in Be­larus.

As part of those drills, Rus­sian para­troop­ers parachuted into Be­larus on Wed­nes­day. Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the swear­ing- in was "ab­so­lutely the sov­er­eign de­ci­sion of the Be­laru­sian lead­er­ship". Asked if Putin was in­vited, he said it looked as though the pres­ence of for­eign lead­ers had not been en­vis­aged. The United Na­tions agreed last week to step up mon­i­tor­ing of re­ported hu­man rights abuses in Be­larus.

Rights in­ves­ti­ga­tor Anais Marin said more than 10,000 peo­ple had been "abu­sively ar­rested" since the elec­tion, with more than 500 re­ports of tor­ture and thou­sands "sav­agely beaten". Be­larus au­thor­i­ties have said the po­lice are hu­mane and pro­fes­sional, and have de­clined to com­ment on spe­cific al­le­ga­tions of abuses.

FAIR­FAX, VIR­GINIA -AFP

A man wears a shirt sup­port­ing US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump while wait­ing in a so­cially dis­tant line to vote on the first day of early vot­ing for the 2020 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion at the Fair­fax County Gov­ern­ment Cen­ter in Fair­fax, Vir­ginia, US.

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