Europe

Belarus's Alexander Lukashenko begins fourth term

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Media captionEU officials boycotted the inauguration ceremony

Alexander Lukashenko has been sworn in for a fourth term as Belarus's president in the capital Minsk, after his election last month.

The inauguration comes as European officials consider strict sanctions against the former Soviet republic for a crackdown against the opposition.

EU officials boycotted the inauguration ceremonies.

The European parliament has passed a resolution calling for new elections in Belarus.

President Lukashenko arrived at Minsk's central Palace of the Republic with his six-year-old son, Nikolai, to be sworn in for another five-year term.

Taking his oath on a copy of the Belarus constitution, Mr Lukashenko hailed the democratic standards of the 19 December presidential elections, which saw him win 80% of the vote.

However, international monitors have said the contest was deeply flawed.

On election night thousands of demonstrators gathered in central Minsk to protest against Mr Lukashenko's re-election. They said the vote was rigged.

After some tried to storm the main government building police broke up the crowds, beating protesters and arresting hundreds.

Many, including the main opposition candidates, remain in jail, and more than 30 people face lengthy prison terms for causing mass disturbances.

The international reaction to the beatings and arrests has been sharp.

On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the Belarus vote and imprisonments, and calling for new elections.

EU ministers will meet on 31 January to decide whether to impose severe sanctions, including a visa ban and asset freeze for top Belarus officials, including Mr Lukashenko.

Poland's government has already enacted a unilateral travel ban against the Belarusian authorities, and has encouraged other European countries to follow suit.

Belarus, for its part, accuses Polish and German officials of trying to stage a coup d'etat on election day, an accusation that Warsaw and Berlin deny.

Mr Lukashenko has promised strong retaliation against any country that imposes sanctions.

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