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BELARUS PRESIDENT SWORN IN AT SECRET INAUGURAL RITES

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was sworn in to his sixth term in office at an inaugural ceremony that was not announced in advance amid weeks of huge protests of the authoritarian leader's reelection, which the opposition says was rigged, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

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 of 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." 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%.



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