President sworn in after dispute

0

MINSK, Belarus (AP) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a third term Saturday and assailed the West for fomenting unrest after an election protested as fraudulent and undemocratic.

Several thousand officials and lawmakers gave a standing ovation to a somber-looking Lukashenko, who took his oath during a ceremony at the huge, concrete Palace of the Republic. In a brief speech, he blamed Western nations for protests against his re-election.

Lukashenko has faced international condemnation of the March 19 election, which he won with 83 percent of the vote, according to official results.

“They want to humiliate our nation and turn it into another testing ground for a color revolution,” he said in a reference to protests that helped oust unpopular governments in other ex-Soviet nations, such as Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.”

Lukashenko lashed out at his foes, accusing them of being manipulated by the West.

“Belarusians can’t be strangled, they can’t be manipulated,” said the hard-line president, who has ruled his former Soviet nation since 1994 and has been labeled Europe’s last dictator for his relentless crackdown on dissent.

The building in downtown Minsk where Lukashenko was sworn in was encircled by police, who also blocked the public from entering other central areas of the Belarusian capital in an apparent effort to prevent the opposition from mounting rallies.

“Lukashenko grabbed victory through force and lies,” main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich, who received only around 6 percent of votes, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from neighboring Lithuania.

“The civilized world doesn’t recognize Lukashenko, and he will find it hard to convince the Belarusian people of his victory.”

Lukashenko donned a military uniform after the inauguration and received an oath of allegiance from military and security troops on an adjacent square.

“We won’t allow anyone to speak to us in a posture of force,” Lukashenko told the troops.

He accused the West of trying to “plunge the nation into chaos and anarchy.”

Thousands of people demonstrated in central Minsk after the election to protest the result, and hundreds of opposition protesters were jailed after the breakup of a tent camp and a violent clash between demonstrators and riot police.

Another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, who also ran to challenge Lukashenko, has been in jail since leading an opposition march last month. He was charged with organizing mass disturbances.

Kozulin’s wife, Irina, told the AP he sent another appeal to the nation’s Supreme Court on Saturday, demanding to invalidate the election results.

The European Union is expected next week to approve a visa ban on 31 top Belarus officials – including Lukashenko – in a response to the election.

The 25 European leaders have said the presidential vote was “fundamentally flawed” and that they would “take restrictive measures against those … responsible for the violation of international electoral standards.”

On Friday, Belarusian riot police broke up a demonstration by dozens of opposition activists in the Minsk central square that was the epicenter of protests against Lukashenko’s re-election.

Lukashenko relies on political support and cheap energy resources from Russia. Lukashenko’s office said that Russian President Vladimir Putin called Saturday to congratulate him.

Advertisement
SHARE