After weeks of protest surrounding the disputed August election, the inauguration was unexpectedly brought forward. But civilians in the capital reacted angrily to the development, taking to the streets once more.
Belarus police fired tear gas at protesters in Minsk who took to the streets to demonstrate against President Alexander Lukashenko being sworn in for a sixth term on Wednesday.
More than 150 people were arrested across Belarus, including in the capital city and in the southwestern city of Brest, according to Viasna rights group.
The inauguration took place in secret and with no prior announcement; only government officials attended.
During the ceremony, Lukashenko placed his right hand on the constitution and swore to “serve the people of the Republic of Belarus, respect and protect rights and freedoms of people and citizens.”
Alexander Lukashenko’s motorcade heads to the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday in Minsk.
Calls for protest
Following the inauguration ceremony, the Belarusian opposition called for an “immediate civil disobedience campaign.”
Pavel Latushko, an opposition politician, said the ceremony was like a secret meeting of “thieves.”
“Where are the jubilant citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps?” Latushko said.
And it was not long before the people of Minsk reacted, taking to the streets to vent their frustration as police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators.
Some wore cardboard crowns and chanted “Long live Belarus” as riot police in green uniforms arrested protesters, a handful of whom were injured in the clashes.
Germany says proceedings illegitimate
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday that the ceremony in Minsk has “no legitimacy” and that Berlin does not recognize Lukashenko as the president.
Seibert said that Germany supported activating sanctions against Belarusian officials as soon as possible, adding Berlin regrets that the EU’s foreign ministers have yet to agree on moving forward.
A proposed list of some 40 Belarusian officials to be hit with travel bans and asset freezes has yet to be approved by all member states, with Cyprus being the last holdout.
Petras Austrevicius, standing rapporteur of the European Parliament on Belarus, welcomed the stance from Germany and said that Lukashenko’s election opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was seen by many as the rightful president-elect.
“I appreciate a clear statement from the German government that they are not going to recognize this fake inauguration,” Austrevicius said. “Belarusian people in great majority see Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya as a president-elect. She is a president of the people. We have to support her as well as the Coordination Council in all their efforts to achieve early elections. Early elections are needed as much as ever before.”
Robert Biedron, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with Belarus, spoke out over the attempts to conceal the operation.
“A winner of election, a leader that enjoys real support of the society would not need to hold his presidential inauguration in secret. This only shows how scared Lukashenko is. Just to be clear: for us this self-proclaimed presidency is meaningless,” Biedron said.
Read more: EU response to Belarus protests hampered by internal divisions
Often dubbed ‘Europe’s last dictator,’ Lukashenko has been in power for over two decades
Wednesday’s ceremony would normally have been publicized in advance as a major state occasion. However, Lukashenko’s disputed election victory on August 9 has unleashed weeks of mass protest across Belarus.
Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. The opposition says the recent election was rigged. Much of the international community also rejected Lukashenko’s claim that he won the election with 80% of the vote.
jsi, wmr/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)