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Weeks After Disputed Election, Belarus President Is Secretly Inaugurated

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go overseas now to Europe - to Belarus, where protests continue a month and a half after a presidential election, an election the U.S. and its European allies say was neither free nor fair. Now the country's longtime leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has been inaugurated for a sixth term in a secret ceremony. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: On Wednesday morning, Alexander Lukashenko's motorcade raced down Independence Avenue in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. He entered the presidential residence filled with hundreds of his loyalists.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: The inauguration had not been announced. And there were no foreign delegations, not even from Russia, Lukashenko's strongest backer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: Lukashenko took the oath of office with his right hand on the constitution, swearing to serve the Belarusian people. Whether they still want to be served by him is another question. Lukashenko's claim to have won 80% of the vote in August's presidential election sparked weeks of protests and a brutal police crackdown on demonstrators condemned by human rights organizations. Lukashenko's main opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, called the inauguration ceremony a farce and said she was the only leader chosen by the Belarusian people. Belarusians again took to the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

KIM: "Rat, you're fired," demonstrators chanted in the town of Brest in a video shared widely on social media. Lukashenko has angered many Belarusians by calling peaceful protesters rats.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIM: After the inauguration, Lukashenko put on a military uniform and met with soldiers who pledged their loyalty to him. But Lukashenko's problem is not only that his own people consider him illegitimate, most of Europe does, too.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "DRAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.