President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has assumed his sixth term of office in an inauguration ceremony that wasn’t announced in advance.
State news agency Belta reported that Wednesday’s ceremony is taking place in the capital of Minsk, with several hundred top government officials present.
It comes after six weeks of mass protests against the official results of the August 9 presidential election that resulted in Lukashenko’s reelection after 26 years in office in office. The opposition in Belarus has challenged the election as rigged.
According to the official results, Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist, won 80 per cent of the vote. The United States and the European Union have also criticised the violent police crackdown on post-election protests in Belarus.
According to a post on the state media’s Telegram account, the inauguration ceremony took place at 10.30 am CEST at the Palace of Independence in the centre of Minsk.
“Putting his right hand on the Constitution, Alexsander Lukashenko took the oath in Belarusian,” it stated. “Then he signed the act of taking the oath, after which the chairman of the Central Commission of Belarus on Elections and the Conduct of Republican Referendums, Lidiya Yermoshina, presented Alexander Lukashenko with an ID of the President of the Republic of Belarus.”
Several hundred loyalists were invited to the ceremony, including senior officials, heads of state agencies, members of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic, according to reports.
As part of the inauguration ceremony, Lukashenko took an oath swearing to “serve the people of the Republic of Belarus, respect and protect rights and freedoms of people and citizens.”
Lukashenko’s motorcade arrived at the official residence of the president at 10 am CEST, where “Lukashenka [has] officially assumed the presidency,” state media reported.
In a post on Twitter, Minsk-based journalist Franak Viačorka reported that half of the city centre was closed off to avoid protests.
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.
Lukashenko’s strongest election opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got 10 per cent of the vote according to the official results. She didn’t accept the outcome of the election as valid. Neither did many European governments and thousands of Tsikhanouskaya’s supporters.
During the first three days of the protests, demonstrators faced a brutal crackdown, with police using truncheons and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. Several protesters died.
Amid international outrage, Belarusian authorities switched to prosecuting top activists and mass detentions, avoiding large-scale violence.
Hundreds have been arrested at weekly protests in Minsk and other cities across Belarus.
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.