EU ambassadors boycott inauguration of Belarusian president

Minsk/Kiev - Authoritarian leader Aleksander Lukashenko was sworn in on Friday as Belarusian president as European Union ambassadors stayed away to protest the rigged vote that gave him a fourth term in office.

The ambassadors of Poland, Germany, Lithuania and nine other EU nations with legations in the capital Minsk left Belarus on Thursday.

Also absent from the ceremony were the ambassadors of the US and Ukraine, the Belapan news agency reported.

The diplomats were protesting the December 19 poll in which Lukashenko claimed to have gotten 80 per cent of the vote, as well as the subsequent crackdown on the opposition and media.

More than 20,000 Belarusians took to the streets to protest Lukashenko's victory on election day. Police used force to break up the demonstrations, arresting more than 600 people.

A wide-ranging crackdown against government opponents has continued through January, with police raiding opposition homes and offices almost daily. Thirty-three opposition leaders and journalists are now awaiting trial in connection with the December demonstrations.

International groups, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have been virtually unanimous in their criticism of the election and the continuing crackdowns.

Lukashenko has ordered the OSCE to close its office in Belarus and has threatened the EU with sanctions of his own.


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