Ignoring calls for an end to his 26-year grip on power, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was sworn in for a sixth term yesterday after an election that the opposition and several foreign governments say was rigged.
The ceremony would normally have been publicised as a major state occasion but was instead held without warning following Lukashenko's claim of a landslide victory in the Aug 9 election.
The opposition, which has staged more than six weeks of mass protests demanding his resignation, denounced the inauguration as illegitimate and called for more demonstrations in the evening.
The United States and European Union are drawing up sanctions against officials involved in the election and a subsequent crackdown by the security forces.
The 66-year-old leader said the country needed safety and consensus "on the brink of a global crisis", an apparent reference to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I cannot, I have no right to abandon the Belarusians," he said.
An opposition politician, Pavel Latushko, said the swearing-in was like a secret "thieves' meeting".
Germany reiterated that it did not recognise Lukashenko as president and called for EU sanctions to be agreed as soon as possible.
He has so far withstood the protests with backing from his ally, President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Despite its population of only 9.5 million, Belarus matters to Russia as a buffer state against Nato and a conduit for Russian exports of oil and gas.