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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 April 2006, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Belarus president starts new term
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko
Mr Lukashenko has been in power since 1994
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has been sworn in for a third term in office, weeks after his contentious election win.

In a ceremony in the Palace of the Republic in the capital, Minsk, he vowed to serve the people of Belarus and uphold their rights.

The ceremony was shown live on Belarussian television.

His election victory last month was criticised by international observers as being neither free nor fair.

Mr Lukashenko was returned to office with 83% of the vote, but the OSCE, Europe's main election monitoring body, said the vote was "severely flawed".

The result sparked demonstrations in October Square in the capital, which is now the focal point for Mr Lukashenko's victory celebrations.

Travel ban

After the ceremony, Mr Lukashenko gave a brief speech in which he attacked the political opposition and the West.

"They want to humiliate our nation," he said.

"No one inside or outside the country has the right to ignore the will of the people."

Following his inauguration, Mr Lukashenko donned a military uniform and walked into October Square to watch a march.

Police were deployed around the palace in an apparent effort to prevent protests by the opposition.

But the opposition leader said the president would "find it hard to convince the Belarusian people of his victory".

"Lukashenko grabbed victory through force and lies," Alexander Milinkevich told the Associated Press news agency.

Earlier this week, Mr Milinkevich received a warm welcome from MEPs during a European tour, when he called on the European Parliament for tougher sanctions against Belarussian officials.

European Union foreign ministers are expected to impose a travel ban on Mr Lukashenko and other senior officials, who have been accused in the West of human rights abuses.

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