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Defiant Belarus President Is Sworn In

Lukashenko has faced condemnation over the vote. He says the West is manipulating his foes.

April 09, 2006|From the Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus — President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a third term Saturday and blamed the West for fomenting protests that the vote was fraudulent and undemocratic.

Several thousand officials and lawmakers gave a standing ovation to a somber-looking Lukashenko, who took his oath at a ceremony in the huge concrete Palace of the Republic.

Lukashenko has faced international condemnation over the March 19 election, which he won with 83% 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 former 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 here since 1994 and has been labeled Europe's last dictator for his 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 capital in an apparent effort to prevent opposition rallies.

"Lukashenko grabbed victory through force and lies," Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate who received about 6% of votes, said 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 in 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.

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