President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has been sworn in for a sixth term – ignoring calls for an end to his 26-year grip on power.
It comes after an election that the opposition and several foreign governments say was rigged. The opposition, which has staged more than six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation, denounced the low-key inauguration as illegitimate and called for more demonstrations.
The ceremony would normally have been publicised as a major state occasion but was instead held without warning.
Sixty-six-year-old Lukashenko took the oath of office 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.”
His political opponents, as well as European officials, say the absence of public involvement in the
inauguration only proved that Lukashenko lacked a valid mandate to continue leading the country.
“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.
His strongest opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, called the inauguration “a farce.”
“I, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, am the only leader that has been elected by the Belarusian people. And our goal right now is to build the new Belarus together,” she said in a video from Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius.
Following the inauguration, thousands of protesters marched through the streets carrying red-and-white opposition flags. Several people were injured after water cannon were fired by police, according to Russian news agency Interfax.