Minsk: President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was sworn in for a new term on Wednesday in an inauguration denounced as illegitimate by the opposition, which called for more protests against his 26-year rule.
Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office as Belarusian President during a swearing-in ceremony in Minsk, Belarus September 23, 2020.
The sudden ceremony, which would normally be publicised as a major state occasion but was instead held without warning, followed a disputed election on Aug. 9 in which Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory.
The opposition accuses him of massive vote-rigging and has staged more than six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation. 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.
Rumours had swept Minsk that the 66-year-old 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.”
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.