Belarus: Lukashenko sworn in again as President in secret ceremony; Russia drops paratroopers during military drills

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 23, 2020 6:26:46 pm

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signs the inauguration certificate during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (Sergei Sheleg/Pool Photo via AP)

Amidst nationwide protests against Belarus’ long-standing authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s beleaguered leader was sworn in for his sixth consecutive term in a sudden inauguration event on Wednesday.

The inauguration has been denounced as illegitimate by the opposition, which has also called for more protests across the country, Reuters reported. Belarus has witnessed over six weeks of sustained protests ever since Lukashenko was re-elected in a highly controversial and disputed poll in August.

According to the data released by the election commission, Lukashenko secured over 80 per cent of votes at the poll on August 9, while his main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya got only 9.9 per cent. A day after the election, Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania, claiming that she feared for her family’s safety, BBC reported.

However, many believe that the 65-year-old leader, who has served as Belarus’ President for 26 years, committed election fraud and vote-rigging to remain in power. Thousands of demonstrators gathered across the country to demand a fresh election and new democratic leadership in the country.

Here are the top developments from Belarus

Russia drops paratroopers into Belarus during military drills

Russian paratroopers parachuted into Belarus Wednesday as part of joint Military drills, the Ministry of Defence announced. The drills took place on the same day as Lukashenko’s swearing-in ceremony, Reuters reported.

Several military analysts have said that the recent drills could be a show of solidarity for Lukashenko by Moscow. Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had vowed to deploy a reserve force in Belarus if the political crisis worsened.

In this photo taken from a footage released on Sept. 22, 2020, by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Paratroopers attend a military exercise at the Ashuluk military base in Southern Russia. Russian Air Defense systems successfully repelled aerial strike during joined military drills in the south of Russia. The drills, expected to be held in the Black Sea and Caspian sea waters, will take place until September 26th. Belarus, Armenia, China, Pakistan and Myanmar take part in the exercises. (Vadim Grishankin/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

According to a statement by the defence ministry, 900 Russians participated in the drills and 100 separate items of military equipment were used.

‘Day of assuming post of president is day of our victory,’ says Lukashenko

Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in on Wednesday in the capital city of Minsk, with several top government officials in attendance, state news agency Belta reported. Lukashenko allegedly put his right hand on a copy of the country’s constitution and swore the oath of office, the report stated.

“The day of assuming the post of the president is the day of our victory, convincing and fateful,” he said at the ceremony, according to an AP report. “We were not just electing the president of the country — we were defending our values, our peaceful life, sovereignty and independence.”

Opposition leader calls inauguration “thieve’s meeting”

Slamming the sudden inauguration ceremony, opposition leader Pavel Latushko described Lukashenko’s swearing in as a secret “thieve’s meeting”. “Where are the jubilant citizens? Where is the diplomatic corps?” He wrote on social media, according to a Reuters report.

“It is obvious that Alexander Lukashenko is exclusively the president of the OMON (riot police) and a handful of lying officials,” he added, calling for an indefinite act of civil disobedience. .

Meanwhile, several world leaders also condemned the move. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius called the ceremony “a farce”, AP reported. “Forged elections. Forged inauguration. The former president of Belarus does not become less former. Quite the contrary. His illegitimacy is a fact with all the consequences that this entails,” Linkevicius tweeted.

EU yet to impose sanctions despite Tikhanovskaya plea

Despite repeated pleas by Belarus’ opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, members of the European Union (EU) have been unable to agree on sanctions to impose on Lukashenko and other members of his administration, Al Jazeera reported.

Tikhanovskaya made a shocking presentation before the bloc’s foreign ministers on Tuesday, where she showed pictures of the brutality faced by anti-government protestors over the last few weeks. She urged EU leaders to enter dialogue with Belarus’ Opposition Coordination Council.

At least three protestors have died and thousands have been detained during violent stand-offs between demonstrators and law enforcement authorities, according to an AP report.

Dozens investigated amid protest, says human rights group

Belarusian Human Rights Group Viasna on Tuesday said that more than 250 criminal cases have been opened against political opponents, activists and protesters amidst the ongoing protests, AP reported.

Dozens have been subject to criminal investigation since the controversial presidential campaign first began four months ago, according to Viasna. Several people faced charges such as inciting mass riots, resisting law enforcement authorities and participating in protests, AP reported.

“The scale and the scope of repression in Belarus forces human rights advocates to ask for help from international organizations, within the framework of which Minsk has undertaken obligations that are grossly violated,” Viasna head Ales Bialiatski said.

The group declared 68 people to be political prisoners.

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