- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

MINSK, Belarus — Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a third term yesterday and assailed the West for fomenting unrest after an election protested as fraudulent and undemocratic.

Several thousand officials and lawmakers gave a standing ovation to a somber-looking Mr. Lukashenko, who took his oath during a ceremony at the huge, concrete Palace of the Republic. In a brief speech, he blamed Western nations for protests against his re-election.

Mr. Lukashenko has faced international condemnation of the March 19 election, which he won with 83 percent of the vote, according to official results.

“They want to humiliate our nation and turn it into another testing ground for a color revolution,” he said in a reference to protests that helped oust unpopular governments in other ex-Soviet nations, such as Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.”

Mr. Lukashenko lashed out at his foes, accusing them of being manipulated by the West.

“Belarusians can’t be strangled; they can’t be manipulated,” said the hard-line president, who has ruled the former Soviet satellite since 1994 and has been labeled Europe’s last dictator for his relentless crackdown on dissent.

The building in downtown Minsk where Mr. Lukashenko was sworn in was encircled by police, who also blocked the public from entering other central areas of the Belarusian capital in an apparent effort to prevent the opposition from mounting rallies.

“Lukashenko grabbed victory through force and lies,” main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich, who received only about 6 percent of the vote, said in a telephone interview from neighboring Lithuania. “The civilized world doesn’t recognize Lukashenko, and he will find it hard to convince the Belarusian people of his victory.”

Mr. Lukashenko donned a military uniform after the inauguration and received an oath of allegiance from military and security troops on an adjacent square.

“We won’t allow anyone to speak to us in a posture of force,” he told the troops.

Thousands of people demonstrated in central Minsk after the election to protest the result, and hundreds of opposition protesters were jailed after the breakup of a tent camp and a violent clash between demonstrators and riot police.

The European Union is expected next week to approve a visa ban on 31 top Belarus officials — including Mr. Lukashenko — in a response to the election. He relies on political support and cheap energy resources from Russia. His office said Russian President Vladimir Putin called yesterday to congratulate him.



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