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Belarus: Water cannons disperse protesters denouncing Lukashenko's secret inauguration

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A woman reacts as she sits in front of law enforcement officers during a rally to protest against the presidential inauguration in Minsk on September 23, 2020.
A woman reacts as she sits in front of law enforcement officers during a rally to protest against the presidential inauguration in Minsk on September 23, 2020.   -   Copyright  TUT.BY / AFP
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Belarus authorities deployed water cannons on Wednesday to disperse protesters who had gathered in central Minsk to denounce the secret inauguration of President Alexander Lukashenko.

At least 5,000 people gathered in the capital following the announcement that Lukashenko had been sworn in in secret with authorities responding with water cannons and tear gas to break them up.

Officers wearing balaclavas then proceeded to carry out dozens of arrests. By 22:00 CET, the Viasna election monitoring group had recorded more than 150 arrests across the country, with the vast majority carried out in Minsk.

Lukashenko was sworn in for his sixth term on Wednesday in front of several hundred top government officials but the ceremony was kept secret.

Protests against his election victory have been ongoing since the August 9 presidential election in which he was credited with over 80% of the vote. The opposition, the European Union and the United States have rejected the official results.

The 66-year-old president has ruled over the ex-Soviet country for 26 years.

The German government said that the fact that the ceremony had been held in secret only highlighted the weaknesses of the regime and its lack of legitimacy while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte reiterated that he does not recognise Lukashenko's victory.

Linas Linkevicius, Lithuania's top diplomat, reacted on Twitter writing: "Such a farce. Forged elections. Forged inauguration."

Lithuania and its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Estonia have slapped sanctions on 30 Belarusian officials including Lukashenko. The European Union is also working on a sanction list to include officials involved in the rigging of the election and the subsequent repression of peaceful protests.

A spokesperson for the State Department said on Wednesday that "the United States cannot consider Alexander Lukashenko the legitimately elected leader of Belarus".

"The elections on August 9 were neither free nor fair. The announced results were fraudulent and did not convey legitimacy," they added.