Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election in a controversial ballot last month led to weeks of mass protests, has been inaugurated for a sixth term in an unannounced ceremony.
State media said several hundred people attended the ceremony at the Independence Palace in central Minsk.
The streets were cordoned off as Mr Lukashenko’s procession passed through town, witnesses said.
An opposition politician likened the event to a “secret meeting of thieves”.
Presidential inaugurations are normally announced well in advance as major state occasions.
Instead, the state-run Belta news agency reported on Wednesday: “Alexander Lukashenko has taken office as President of Belarus. The inauguration ceremony takes place in these minutes at the Independence Palace. “
Lukashenko said Belarus needed security and consensus “on the brink of a global crisis,” an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Belta reported.
“I can’t, I don’t have the right to abandon the Belarusians,” he added.
Opposition channel Nexta Live on the Telegram messaging app called for street protests from 6 p.m. local time (3 p.m. GMT) and urged drivers to block roads and create traffic jams.
“From that day, he [Lukashenko] officially becomes a bandit and fraudster who is not recognized anywhere in the civilized world, ”the channel said.
Lukashenko, 66, claimed a sixth term as president in the widely controversial August 9 election. He insisted he won fairly with 80% of the vote and described the protests against him as a West-backed plot. Earlier this month he secured a $ 1.5bn (£ 1.2bn) loan from Russia.
Her main political rival, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, claims to have won 60-70% in places where the votes were correctly counted.
Opposition figures, including Tikhanovskaya, are now in exile in neighboring countries amid a wave of arrests.
Despite the crackdown, anti-government protests show no sign of abating. On Sunday, a crowd of around 100,000 people staged another rally in the capital, demanding Lukashenko resign.
Opposition politician Pavel Latushko posted on social media after news of the opening ceremony: “Where are the jubilant citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps? “
“It is obvious that Alexander Lukashenko is exclusively the president of Omon (riot police) and a handful of deceptive officials. “
He called for “an indefinite action of civil disobedience”.