Belarus embattled strongman alexander lukashenko has been sworn in as president in secret amid ongoing mass protests against his 26-year rule.
Mr lukashenko, 66, took the oath of office in minsks independence palace on wednesday in front of a few hundred members of the political elite and security services.
The event not announced beforehand or shown on tv while troops shut down minsks city centre was itself an indication of how far mr lukashenkos standing in belarus has fallen since he declared himself the winner of augusts contested presidential election with 80 per cent of the vote.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have joined demonstrations calling on him to resign, while workers at several of the state-owned enterprises that prop up belaruss flagging economy have gone on strike.
This is not how a candidate with 80 per cent support does these things, nigel-gould davies, a former uk ambassador to belarus, wrote on twitter.
Mr lukashenko has relied on police violence against protesters, security service pressure against opposition leaders and the threat of kremlin intervention to suppress the movement, which he claims is a western-backed colour revolution.
Yes, this year will go into belaruss history as a very emotional period, mr lukashenko said, according to state news agency belta. our statehood faced an unprecedented challenge from foolproof techniques used to destroy independent states...public servants and the people in epaulettes [a slang term for security officers] demonstrated their mettle, courage and impermeability.
Mr lukashenko has responded to the protests with a charm offensive aimed at vladimir putin, the russian president. russia agreed last week to provide belarus with a $1.5bn loan and further security assistance but is urging mr lukashenko to push through a political transition that would help identify a palatable successor.
Dmitry peskov, mr putins press secretary, told reporters that belarus did not invite any senior russian officials to the inauguration. i personally had no information about this, mr peskov said.
Eu countries have embraced svetlana tikhanovskaya, the opposition candidate who declared herself the national leader after the election, and have also promised sanctions against senior belarusian officials for widespread electoral fraud and police violence.
Lithuania where ms tikhanovskaya fled after security services warned that her children risked growing up as orphans and slovakia have refused to recognise mr lukashenko as president.
The sanctions effort faltered this week with cypruss insistence that the eu consider measures against turkey over eastern mediterranean energy reserves, while mr lukashenko has so far refused to respond to french and german efforts at mediation.
Russia has refused to negotiate with an opposition coordination council set up by ms tikhanovskayas allies, most of whose members are now in jail or exile.
Belaruss remaining opposition leaders called on the people to protest later on wednesday. where are the jubilant citizens? where is the diplomatic corps? wrote pavel latushko, a member of the council.
It is obvious that alexander lukashenko is exclusively the president of riot police and a handful of lying officials.
Several thousand people protested outside a war memorial in minsk on wednesday evening. police arrested some of the protesters and used water cannons to disperse the rest.