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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs