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Lukashenko dashes hopes of economic reform at inauguration

Belarus can help bring the East and the West closer together, said President Lukashenko while starting his fifth consecutive term as the head of the ex-Soviet state. The country is not ready for reforms, he added.

Free market reforms could spark "a revolution or a civil war" in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko said at his

inauguration ceremony

in Minsk on Friday.

"Too many people talk about structural reform these days but nobody has mentioned what these reforms are," Lukashenko said Friday, referring to the raising of the retirement age, and cancelling publicly financed medical care and education.

"This would mean smashing the political system, the entire government of Belarus, in pieces, dividing and giving away the state and people's property," he added.

Belarus has kept most of the Soviet style structures since the USSR collapsed in 1991. The government controls about 80 percent of the national economy, which relies heavily on trade and energy imports from Russia.

The Belarusian ruble is currently close to 17,500 to the US dollar (19,000 to the euro). The country is set to slash four zeros from banknotes in July next year.

Standing up to Putin

Speaking at his swearing in on Friday, Lukashenko recommended to his citizens to start any reform with themselves.

"You cannot say that only the government is to blame and everybody else is good. Have you done everything so that you, your family, your friends and relatives, acquaintances and the whole country would be happy and have a good life? Probably not everything," he said.

Rights activists accuse Lukashenko of human rights abuses and cracking down on the opposition.

However, the European Union

suspended sanctions against Belarus

last week, after the regime freed a number of political prisoners.

In October, Lukashenko also rejected the

Russian bid for creating a military base

on Belarusian territory, signaling a growing distance between Minsk and its closest ally.

Between Russia and the West

On Friday, the Belarusian strongman said he was willing to work both with the East and the West, and that his country offers them a way to do so.

"We will ensure the interests of both the East and the West. Belarus will do everything you want," he said.

Lukashenko has been ruling the former Soviet Union member since 1994, and the Friday ceremony saw the beginning of his fifth consecutive term.

The president rejected the possibility of any velvet-style revolution in Belarus. Such events "never happen in a peaceful and safe country," he said in his inauguration speech.

More than 1,000 high-ranking diplomats and politicians attended the Friday ceremony, including the ex-President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and the leader of Russian Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov.

dj/rc (AP, Interfax)

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