Belarus Arrests Dozens as President Secretly Sworn In

Belarusian police on Wednesday used water cannon and tear gas to disperse several thousand demonstrators and detained dozens of people during protests against strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s secretive presidential inauguration.

Riot police were violently detaining protesters across the city and at least two demonstrators were injured and received medical aid, witnesses told AFP. 

Viasna rights group said at least 33 people were detained in Minsk and elsewhere.

Earlier Wednesday Lukashenko held his presidential inauguration in secret after claiming a sixth term in disputed August elections that spurred historic demonstrations against his rule and a brutal police crackdown.

Так выглядел разгон возле стелы сегодня. Против людей использовали водомет с цветной водой. pic.twitter.com/f9pASep1cc— TUT.BY (@tutby) September 23, 2020

A number of European countries including Germany responded by refusing to recognize him as the legitimate president of the ex-Soviet state. The EU has proposed sanctions over vote violations and police violence.

On Wednesday evening, several thousand protesters took to the streets, some chanting “Long live Belarus” and others wearing cardboard crowns. 

Many derided the 66-year-old, who has been in power since 1994.

“You did not assume office — you entered the late stage of dementia,” read one placard, while another said: “I had my cat sworn in today.”

Video released by Tut.by, an independent Belarusian outlet, showed riot police violently dispersing protesters who yelled “fascists” while some demonstrators including women had bloodied faces. 

Tear gas was used during a scuffle between police and protesters.

Earlier in the day Lukashenko’s opposition rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya reiterated her claim to be the true winner of the elections, saying the “so-called inauguration is of course a farce.”

The date of his inauguration had not been announced, but on Wednesday, the Belta state news agency broke the news that Lukashenko had “taken office as President of Belarus” during a ceremony in the Palace of Independence.

“If the inauguration had been announced in advance, 200,000 demonstrators would have gathered outside his palace,” said Ales Belyatsky, head of the Viasna rights group.

‘Ruled by usurper’

Going ahead with the inauguration despite elections described by the EU as not free or fair, prompted many countries to refuse to acknowledge his presidency.

Germany does not recognise Lukashenko as president of Belarus, said government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, adding his re-election lacked “democratic legitimacy.”

Officials including the Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok and Danish counterpart Jeppe Kofod made similar statements, as did the Baltic states, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

Belarusians also rejected Lukashenko’s right to rule.

“From today we are officially ruled by an usurper,” said 38-year-old businessman Igor Kukharsky.

Фотография с инаугурации Лукашенко, которая началась без анонса и телетрансляции.

Фото: Пул Первого pic.twitter.com/iKQKT5F9UL— TUT.BY (@tutby) September 23, 2020

“No one took this inauguration seriously,” said Valentina Svyatskaya, a 64-year-old pensioner, while 20-year-old student Yulia Kulakova said: “He’s a nobody now.”

The furtive way the inauguration was held prompted mockery from political foes. 

“Such a farce. Forged elections. Forged inauguration,” tweeted Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.

“Where are the rejoicing citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps?” questioned opposition activist and former minister Pavel Latushko on social media. 

While unannounced, the ceremony featured the usual pomp and around 700 guests.

‘Can’t abandon Belarus’

Belta published photographs of the mustachioed leader swearing the oath of allegiance at a podium in a blue suit with his hand on a copy of the Constitution.

“I can’t, I don’t have the right to abandon Belarusians,” Lukashenko said in his inaugural address.

He blamed the protests on “disorientation of society” and thanked law enforcement for showing “firmness.”

Lukashenko said he and his allies had “prevented a catastrophe.”

Belarus has faced an “unprecedented challenge” from “devilishly sophisticated” tactics directed from abroad, he said.

But “the color revolution didn’t work out,” he said.

Over the past month riot police have  detained thousands of protesters who have reported torture and abuse in custody, prompting international condemnation and proposed EU sanctions.

Lukashenko’s rival Tikhanovskaya has taken shelter in EU member Lithuania, while he has jailed or driven out other key opposition figures.

He has sought support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has promised law enforcement backup if needed, as well as a $1.5 billion loan.

European Union foreign ministers on Monday failed to agree sanctions over the political crisis.

(c) The Moscow Times

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