By Nasta Zakharovich
Minsk, Sep 23 (efe-epa).- Alexander Lukashenko was inaugurated as president of Belarus in a secretive ceremony on Wednesday.
The country has been gripped by anti-government protests since he was controversially announced as the winner of presidential elections on 9 August.
Lukashenko, with his right hand on a copy of the country’s constitution, swore an oath to serve the people and protect their rights and freedoms.
“I cannot and do not have the right to abandon the Belarusians who have linked not only their political preferences but also their destiny and the future of their children to the state’s course,” he was quoted by state-run news agency Belta.
The investiture ceremony took place at Independence Palace in Minsk and was attended by around 700 people including members of parliament, according to official sources.
The event took place amidst great secrecy and information about Lukashenko’s inauguration was leaked to the media while it was taking place.
This was an unprecedented event in Belarus, where the date of a presidential auguration is normally announced several days in advance and broadcast on television, as required by law, which did not happen on this occasion.
Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and was officially re-elected for a sixth consecutive term after reportedly winning more than 80 percent of the vote.
This result has been rejected by the opposition and a large number of Western countries that have announced they do not recognize him as the re-elected leader.
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has been in exile in Lithuania since 11 August, branded the ceremony on Wednesday a “farce”.
“Today Lukashenko tried to carry out his investiture, hiding it from the people,” she said in a video message.
“We are all aware of what is happening. This attempt to prove his legitimacy has only certified the end of his previous term.”
She added that a recent trip to Brussels had assured her that “the countries of Europe support the Belarusian people in their demand to stop the violence, free political prisoners and hold new fair and transparent elections”.
Other members of the Belarusian opposition called for protests against Lukashenko to continue until new elections are held in the country.
Political activist Pavel Latushko wrote on Telegram: “We will never accept the falsifications and we demand new elections.”
Latushko, a former culture minister and ambassador who has since joined Lukashenko’s rivals, added that the opposition is calling for acts of “indefinite disobedience”.
He described the situation as “unprecedented”.
Latushko, who was also forced to flee to Lithuania, said the Belarusian leader has “a diabolical thirst for power”.
Nexta, one of Belarus’ main opposition Telegram channels, announced a protest on Wednesday afternoon against Lukashenko’s inauguration.