While Alexander Lukashenko (photo, from spiegel.de), 56, is sworn in as Belarus’ president, many opposition supporters have staged a demonstration outside the country’s Palace of the Republic.
On Friday Lukashenko, the long standing leader, said no dissent would be tolerated as he took the oath of office for a fourth time in a ceremony that was boycotted by European Union ambassadors.
But the threats were ignored by the protesters, and some of them were arrested by the police.
Holding a copy of the Belarusian constitution, protester Maxim Vinyarsky said he swore “never to recognise Alexander Lukashenko as a legitimate ruler.”
“I put my hand on the Constitution, I hold it in my hand and I swear never to recognise him as president but consider him an usurper, illegally holding power in his hands,” he said.
Re-elected last month in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, Lukashenko has since cracked down on the opposition, jailing hundreds of opposition protesters as well as seven candidates who ran against him in the 19th December poll.
He also closed the office for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose election observers called the vote flawed.
Lukashenko also claimed Poland and Germany were plotting to overthrow him, though both countries rejected the accusation.
If 30 opposition activists, among which are four presidential candidates, are not released, the EU has threatened to re-impose travel restrictions on Lukashenko and other top officials over the flawed elections. In 2008, the travel ban had been lifted when the country made modest progress on rights issues.
But the Belarussian president seemed to rule that out on Thursday, and ordered his government to prepare harsh retaliatory measures if the sanctions are applied.
The ban might also be reinstated when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on 31st January, according to several EU member states and the EU’s Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton.
Belarus was once described as Europe’s last dictatorship by the United States.