Even as protesters continue to pour into the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and as much of the international community calls on President Alexander Lukashenko, 66, to end his 26-year reign, the beleaguered leader was sworn in to a 6th term in a secret ceremony on Wednesday.
The move comes six weeks after Lukashenko claimed an avalanche victory in the election, immediately setting off a storm of opposition protests and allegations from many foreign governments that the process was fraudulent.
Typically, a president’s swearing-in would be a lavish spectacle, but against the backdrop of controversy and protests, this was a quiet occasion announced hours in advance.
“The day the president takes office, the day of the inauguration, is the day of our common victory – a convincing and memorable victory,” said Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”, putting hand over a copy of the constitution, in the presence of several deputies and army generals, state media reported. ” I can not; I do not have the right to abandon the Belarusians. ”
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Afterwards, the anger of the opposition – which staged weeks of mass protests calling for legitimate elections – only swelled, as protesters carrying red and white opposition flags gathered outside a number of universities demanding the resignation of their long-time leader.
In addition, the United States and the European Union have echoed the sentiment of a rigged election and are developing sanctions against officials involved in the voting process and the ensuing violent crackdown on security forces. .
The United Nations also agreed last week to step up monitoring of reported human rights violations in Belarus, with human rights investigator Anais Marin noting that more than 10,000 people have since been “wrongfully arrested”. elections, with over 500 reports of torture and thousands “savagely beaten.” ”
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However, Lukashenko overcame the brunt of the unrest in large part thanks to the unwavering support of Russia’s neighbor and ally, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, announcing on Wednesday that the swearing-in was “absolutely the sovereign decision of Belarusian leaders. “.
Lukashenko has dominated the country of 9 million people since 1994, seizing power just after the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1992 – and built a sort of personality cult throughout his reign of over ‘a quarter century. He is known for his charisma, his mustache, his eccentricities and his self-promotion as a “man of the people”.
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In Soviet times, Lukashenko ran a state farm and thrived under the nickname “Batka” – meaning father – as he sought to create the image of a guardian of the Belarusian people, their animals and industries. agriculture and industry in what some analysts believe to retain the Soviet golden age. Yet fatherhood also brings an eccentric and authoritarian approach to leadership, experts say, in which opposition parties are routinely suppressed, jailed and sometimes “disappeared” without a trace.