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Lukashenko Blasts West at Inauguration

MINSK -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, sworn in Saturday for a third term, lashed out at the West with accusations it was trying to foment unrest in Belarus.

During a pomp-filled inauguration ceremony, a somber-looking Lukashenko accused Western nations of trying "to humiliate our nation and turn it into another testing ground for a color revolution" -- a reference to the Orange and Rose uprisings that helped oust unpopular governments in Ukraine and Georgia.

Several thousand officials and lawmakers filled the Palace of the Republic, a huge concrete Soviet-era congress hall, hailing Lukashenko with a standing ovation after he took his presidential oath.

The building in downtown Minsk was tightly encircled by police, who also blocked the public from other central areas of the city in an apparent effort to prevent the opposition from mounting rallies.

On Friday, riot police broke up a demonstration by dozens of opposition activists in Minsk's central square.

Following the inauguration ceremony, Lukashenko donned a military uniform and went out onto the same square to receive an oath of allegiance from the military and security troops.

"We won't allow anyone to speak to us in a posture of force," Lukashenko told the troops. He accused the West of trying to "plunge the nation into chaos and anarchy."

"Their principle is the same: divide and rule. Only the forms are different -- war and aggression for some, a virus of color revolutions for others," he said.

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

The main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, who received about 6 percent, has claimed fraud.

"Lukashenko grabbed victory through force and lies," Milinkevich said Saturday by telephone from Lithuania, where he was traveling. "The civilized world doesn't recognize Lukashenko, and he will find it hard to convince the Belarussian people of his victory."

Milinkevich met Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and expressed gratitude for support in the struggle against Lukashenko.

Another opposition leader, Alexander Kozulin, who also ran to challenge Lukashenko, has been in jail since leading an opposition march last month.

On Friday, authorities released former Polish Ambassador Mariusz Maszkiewicz from custody, allowing him to leave a hospital Friday without returning to prison to finish a 15-day sentence for participating in a post-election rally. Maszkiewicz left for Poland.

The European Union is expected this week to approve a visa ban for 31 top Belarussian officials, including Lukashenko, in protest of his re-election. The Belarussian Foreign Ministry warned the EU Saturday against the move, describing it as "irresponsible."

Lukashenko's office said President Vladimir Putin called him on Saturday to congratulate him on taking office.


(The Moscow Times 10.iv.06)

 
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