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Belarus President Lukashenko Sworn in For Third Term After Controversial Election

  • Bill Gasperini

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a third term Saturday, following disputed elections. In a speech, he vowed to maintain the policies that have come under sharp criticism from the European Union and the United States, which say last month's election was not free or fair.

In a Soviet-style ceremony that included a military parade, Alexander Lukashenko took the oath of office, and promised to uphold the rights of his people during an unprecedented third term.

He looked stern and resolute, holding his hand on the Belarussian constitution, in a large hall filled with the political and military elite of Belarus. No foreign heads of state were present.

Two years ago, the long-time ruler altered the constitution in a controversial referendum that allowed him to seek a new term in office.

In a brief speech, the 51-year-old leader brushed aside criticism of his rule.

He accused the political opposition and Western nations of seeking to impose what he called a color revolution, similar to the peaceful uprisings in other ex-Soviet states, such as Ukraine, that have swept out unpopular leaders.

He was also referring to a week of street protests that followed the controversial election on March 19, in which he was declared the winner with 83 percent of the vote.

Mr. Lukashenko said, what Belarus most needs is stability, and "no colored malaise" that the opposition and neighbors, such as the countries of the European Union, were seeking for the country.

After the speech, the former state farm boss walked outside to watch a military parade in the same square where thousands of opposition supporters held rallies in the days after the election.

The protests climaxed in a demonstration two weeks ago that was broken up by squads of riot police, who arrested hundreds of people, including one presidential candidate.

About 100 opposition activists did gather briefly on the square Friday evening, but they were quickly dispersed by police.

The United States and the European Union are in the process of imposing new sanctions against Mr. Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe's last dictator.

Thirty-one top officials, including the president, face a visa ban and possible seizure of economic assets held abroad, actions Belarussian officials have brushed aside as meaningless.

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