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Presidential inauguration secretive for Belarusian

by YURAS KARMANAU THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | September 24, 2020 at 4:02 a.m.
People with old Belarusian national flags gather Wednesday to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus. More photos at arkansasonline.com/924belarus/. (AP/TUT.by)

KYIV, Ukraine -- President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was sworn in Wednesday to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance after 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, 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.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRApVe6xKGc]

"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 swearing-in 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" and an attempt by Lukashenko to "proclaim himself legitimate."

"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.

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.

The Viasna human-rights group said several protesters were detained near the palace on Wednesday morning, holding banners that said, "The king has no clothes" and "Victory [will belong to] the people."

In the evening, thousands of people took to the streets in different parts of Minsk to denounce the inauguration. They were met with a heavy response from police, who blocked off some areas of the city center and used water cannons and truncheons to disperse them. Over 140 people were detained, according to the Viasna group, and dozens were injured in the clashes.

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/924belarus/]

Protests continued into late evening despite the crackdown, with groups of demonstrators blocking roads in various parts of the capital.

Rallies also took place in Brest, Vitebsk, Grondo and other cities.

Alexander Klaskousky, an independent Minsk analyst, said the secrecy surrounding the inaugural ceremony illustrated the threat the unrest poses to Lukashenko's grip on power.

"The secret inauguration illustrates the level of trust of the leader in the official results of the election and in the people. Those who officially got 80% of the votes don't act like that," Klaskousky said.

Information for this article was contributed by Daria Litvinova, Liudas Dapkus, Karel Janicek, Jan M. Olsen, Geir Moulson and Monika Scislowska of The Associated Press.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office for his sixth term Wednesday in a previously unannounced inauguration at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk. One opposition leader called the secretive ceremony after a disputed election “a farce,” and thousands of people took to the streets later in protest. More photos at arkansasonline.com/924belarus/.
(AP/Sergei Sheleg)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office for his sixth term Wednesday in a previously unannounced inauguration at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk. One opposition leader called the secretive ceremony after a disputed election “a farce,” and thousands of people took to the streets later in protest. More photos at arkansasonline.com/924belarus/. (AP/Sergei Sheleg)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. 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 official present. (Andrei Stasevich, BelTA/Pool Photo via AP)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. 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 official present. (Andrei Stasevich, BelTA/Pool Photo via AP)
A woman argues with riot police during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo)
A woman argues with riot police during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo)
Women comfort each other during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Women comfort each other during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Riot police detain a protester during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Riot police detain a protester during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Riot police detain a protester an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo)
Riot police detain a protester an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo)
Riot police detain a protester during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Riot police detain a protester during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Riot police detain a protester during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Riot police detain a protester during an opposition rally to protest the presidential inauguration in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests saying the authoritarian leader's reelection was rigged. Hundreds took to the streets in several cities in the evening to protest the inauguration. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
A woman reacts in front of police line during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko 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 official present. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
A woman reacts in front of police line during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko 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 official present. (AP Photo/TUT.by)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko salutes during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. 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 official present. (Andrei Stasevich/Pool Photo via AP)
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko salutes during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. 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 official present. (Andrei Stasevich/Pool Photo via AP)
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