Belarus puts off Lukashenko inauguration

MINSK (Reuters) - The inauguration of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election triggered opposition protests, has been put back from its scheduled date of March 31, a senior election official said on Tuesday.

Nikolai Lozovik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, said a new date would be set by Lukashenko's administration. He gave no reason for the postponement.

The March 19 re-election of the veteran leader, whose Soviet-style polices have brought condemnation in the West, has been branded as fraudulent by the United States, European Union and international observers.

The outcome of the election sparked unusually large opposition protests, by Belarus's standards, culminating in a major rally last Saturday.

A protest march that followed that rally was broken up by police using teargas and stun grenades. Many demonstrators, including at least one leader of the opposition, were detained.

The date of March 31 for Lukashenko's inauguration was announced by the head of the Central Election Commission, Lidiya Yermoshina, soon after the election.

"The date ... had not been agreed with the working schedule of the president," Lozovik told Reuters. He said the ceremony could take place instead in the first half of April.

Immediately after his election, Lukashenko said a Western- inspired attempt to stage a revolution had been averted.

Though he has not been seen in public for several days since, Belarus state television on Tuesday showed him chairing a government meeting.