Pres­i­dent sworn in at se­cret cer­e­mony

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Yuras Kar­manau Yuras Kar­manau is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

KYIV, Ukraine — Pres­i­dent Alexan­der Lukashenko was sworn in Wed­nes­day to his sixth term in of­fice at an in­au­gu­ral cer­e­mony that was not an­nounced in ad­vance amid weeks of huge protests of the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader’s re­elec­tion, which the op­po­si­tion says was rigged.

One op­po­si­tion leader called the se­cre­tive cer­e­mony “a farce,” and sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries re­it­er­ated that they don’t rec­og­nize the re­sults of the elec­tion and refuse to re­gard Lukashenko as the le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent. In the evening, thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets in the cap­i­tal of Minsk to protest the in­au­gu­ra­tion and were met with a strong re­sponse from po­lice.

The cer­e­mony was held in front of sev­eral hun­dred dig­ni­taries at the or­nate Palace of In­de­pen­dence in Minsk, the state news agency Belta said. Po­lice and other se­cu­rity forces blocked off parts of the city and pub­lic trans­porta­tion was sus­pended.

Lukashenko, 66, took the oath of of­fice in Be­laru­sian with his right hand on the con­sti­tu­tion, and the head of the 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,” he said. “We were not just elect­ing the pres­i­dent of the coun­try — we were de­fend­ing our val­ues, our peace­ful life, sovereignt­y and in­de­pen­dence.”

The ab­sence of pub­lic in­volve­ment in the in­au­gu­ra­tion only proved that Lukashenko lacked a valid man­date to con­tinue lead­ing the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and Euro­pean of­fi­cials.

“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,” said St­ef­fen Seib­ert, spokesman for

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. He added that the se­crecy sur­round­ing the swear­ing­in was “very telling.”

Lukashenko has run Be­larus, a for­mer 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 in neigh­bor­ing Lithua­nia af­ter be­ing forced to leave Be­larus, says the out­come was in­valid, as have the tens of thou­sands of her sup­port­ers who con­tinue to de­mand Lukashenko’s res­ig­na­tion dur­ing more than six weeks of mass protests.

“The peo­ple haven’t handed him a new man­date,” she said, call­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion “a farce.”

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. The EU is pon­der­ing sanc­tions against top Be­laru­sian of­fi­cials, but failed to agree on im­pos­ing them this week.

Anti­lukashenko protests have rocked the coun­try daily since the elec­tion, with the largest ral­lies in Minsk at­tract­ing up to 200,000 peo­ple.

Tut.by / AFP via Getty Im­ages

A woman protests the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Alexan­der Lukashenko in Minsk.

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