News / Europe

Belarus President Inaugurated in Isolation

Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko takes his oath of office during his inauguration ceremony in Minsk, 21 Jan 2011
Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko takes his oath of office during his inauguration ceremony in Minsk, 21 Jan 2011
James Brooke

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko was inaugurated Friday for a fourth term. Sometimes called "the last dictator in Europe," Lukashenko now may see his rule stretch for 21 years.

Speaking in Belarussian, Alexander Lukashenko was inaugurated as president of Belarus in a ceremony marked by isolation.

The streets of Minsk were eerily empty when the president and his nine motorcycle convoy swept down Independence Avenue. One month earlier, 40,000 people filled that same avenue, protesting an election they said was rigged.

For the inauguration, the ornate Palace of the Republic filled Friday with rows upon rows of hand-picked government officials. But envoys of the United States and the European Union boycotted the event, staying as far away as possible.

The American Charge d'Affaires, Michael Scanlan, visited Grodno, a city on the Polish border, a five-and-a-half-hour-drive west.

The European ambassadors drove three-and-a-half hours north to Vilnius, Lithuania. There, they met with students at European Humanities University, a university that calls itself a Belorussian university in exile.

For Belarussians watching the inauguration on TV, their president started his new term with a tough speech, warning that "The limit of revolutions and upheavals in Belarus has been exhausted."

Referring to democratic street revolutions that toppled authoritarian leaders in Ukraine and Georgia, he warned: "The virus of 'color' revolutions hits only weak countries."

Turning to his neighbors to the west, he threatened: "To the ill-wishers of Belarus, I want to recall one popular adage: "Do not blow your neighbor's fire - it could accidentally spread onto your house as well"

On Friday, Sovyetskaya Belorussia, the leading official newspaper, charged that foreign donors funneled $20 million to Andrei Sannikov, the presidential candidate who came in second in the Dec. 19 vote. On Thursday, President Lukashenko charged that the intelligence services of  Germany and Poland plotted to overthrow him through election campaigning and street protests.

In response, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: "These baseless charges are intended to detract attention from the real injustice."

Westerwelle says a wave of post-election arrests is prompting the U.S. and the EU to move toward sanctions.

Dick Durbin is one of several American members of Congress who is criticizing the Lukashenko crackdown. Last week, Durbin, who is assistant Senate Majority leader, visited Minsk and met with families of jailed activists and candidates.

Referring to the seven presidential candidates who were jailed, he said, "The fact that four of them still languish in prison today is an indication to me that Lukashenko just does not understand that sort of conduct is totally inconsistent with human rights and democratic values.  I know that European Union is about to take action.  I hope the U.S. will join in that action so the people of Belarus will understand that this action by their leader is unacceptable."

The Obama administration is studying ways to tighten sanctions against the Belarus leadership. On Saturday, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia, the State Department’s lead official for Human Rights policy, is to visit Belarus for a four-day visit.

Senator Durbin said that the Belarus president knows a solution to the sanctions threat.

"Lukashenko can resolve this himself, immediately, by releasing these people from prison and dropping the charges," he said. "And I hope we don’t have to consider any further sanctions that would have an impact on the nation of Belarus."

But President Lukashenko shows no sign of relenting. On Thursday he said on national television of his political rivals: "They should not be sitting in their isolation cells like blind mice, hoping that the Americans and the Europeans will soon come to their rescue."

On Thursday, the European Parliament voted in favor of a wide range of sanctions, ranging from visa bans for the Belarus president and his top aides to denying Belarus funding through the International Monetary Fund.

President Lukashenko, a man with big fists and a short temper, often compares politics to his favorite contact sport - ice hockey.

In response, the European Parliament is threatening to hit him where it hurts. If Belarus does not release its political prisoners, the European Parliament says, the World Hockey Championships should not be held as planned in Belarus in 2014.

In Moscow, foreign affairs analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said such moves are symbolic.

"I don’t believe the Europeans will be ready to impose real economic sanctions on Belarus," Lukyanov said. "For example, to stop trading, to stop buying Belorussian oil product - because that will be bad for European economy, so they will not do it. And the rest is just about symbols."

Lukyanov predicted that Moscow would take advantage of Belarus’ estrangement from the west to weave closer ties.

Indeed, on Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin received his Belarussian counterpart and promised $4 billion in annual energy subsidies and the construction of a $6 billion nuclear power plant.

First planned in the early 1980s, the nuclear project was dropped after the Soviet-made nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine caught fire in April 1986.

Belarussians say their nation received 70 percent of the nuclear fallout from Chernobyl. As a result, nuclear power has long been a taboo topic in Belarus. But, now, with President Lukashenko embarking on a new five year term, it looks like Belarus will finally get its own Russian-designed nuclear power plant.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More