MINSK: President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a fourth term on Friday, in a lavish ceremony boycotted by the West over a crackdown on the Belarus opposition after his disputed election victory.
During his 16-year rule, Lukashenko - once famously described by Washington as Europe's last dictator - has imprisoned some of the opposition's most prominent figures in an unprecedented crackdown after election protests.
In his oath taking at the immense Palace of the Republic in Minsk, Lukashenko pledged to serve the Belarusian people and also "respect and preserve the rights and freedom of people and citizens."
Ahead of the highly choreographed ceremony, Lukashenko was driven through the eerily deserted streets of Minsk in a convoy headed by a fleet of nine motorcycles. He was accompanied into the Palace of the Republic by his extra-marital son Kolya, wearing a suit but dwarfed by his giant father. The boy has in the last months been a constant presence at state events with the president.
Tens of thousands of people had protested on election night in Minsk on December 19 against what they perceived as unfair elections that gave the ice hockey-mad strongman a landslide victory. More than 600 people were detained. Belarus is still holding four of the candidates who stood against Lukashenko and some of the country's leading liberal journalists and activists.
The city centre was virtually deserted ahead of the inauguration although the authorities put out flags and hung a gigantic banner reading "For a Strong and Flourishing Belarus!". afp