Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for a third five-year term Saturday and used the occasion to lash out at his foreign critics.
President once more: Lukashenko signs on for another term
"Politicians, put your own houses in order," he told an audience of 3,000. "Belarus has a solid immune system. Your clumsy attempts to import revolution have had a contrary effect -- they have become an antidote to the 'colors' sickness," he said in a reference to Ukraine's "orange" revolution and Georgia's "rose" upheaval.
Lukashenko, 51, who won a March 19 election condemned as unfair by outside observers, said he "regretted" that European Union newcomers Poland and the three Baltic states were "at the head of a crusade against Belarus" and promised security, order and calm.
Ceremonies began in the formal setting of the Palace of the Republic, decorated with red carpets, national emblems and bunches of roses, and were carried live on national television.
The palace overlooks October Square where thousands of demonstrators gathered for several days to protest against Lukashenko's re-election with a colossal majority.
Lukashenko was applauded by his backers, members of the government, members of parliament, regional representatives, members of the judiciary, scientists and artists.
Isolation confirmed as leaders stay away
No foreign leaders were present. Among foreign delegations was that of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union minus the Baltic states).
"We haven't invited heads of state. It is not our usual practice... Each state has its traditions and rules," presidential spokesman Pavel Lyogkhy told reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending
State-controlled media have portrayed Lukashenko's re-election as an event warmly greeted around the world. But the absence of even close allies such as Russian President Vladimir Putin underlines Lukashenko's reduced international standing following an election that the West said was rigged.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko was officially said to have won 83 percent of the March 19 vote, with his nearest rival, Alexander Milinkevich, getting 6.1 percent.
Overnight, authorities freed several people who had completed jail terms of up to 15 days for taking part in a week of protests following the election.
Among those released were Canadian journalist Frederic Lavoie and a number of Russian citizens who had joined in a days-long protest camp in October Square.
Nonetheless about 100 activists assembled on October Square late Friday with flags and banners reading "No to Fascism, no to Lukashism", before they were dispersed by police.
Europe prepares to slap travel ban on Belarusian officials
The president and 30 other officials will be banned from travel in the EU
The inauguration was expected to be followed on Monday by a decision by EU foreign ministers to slap a travel ban on 31 Belarusian politicians and top officials including Lukashenko, EU officials said earlier.
The West accuses Lukashenko's leadership of suppressing opposition groups and independent media, as well as being involved in the disappearance of several political figures in recent years.
The United States has also said it plans to strengthen sanctions against the Belarusian leadership, having dubbed the country "Europe's last dictatorship".
Opposition promised support from Germany, Poland
Milinkevich was pledged support by Germany's Merkel
Milinkevich on Friday completed a European tour that included a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg and meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
Merkel and Kaczynski agreed on joint action to help Belarusian pro-democracy activists and students thrown out of their universities, a joint statement said Friday night.
During telephone talks, Kaczynski and Merkel "agreed on joint action to help democratic forces in Belarus and Belarusian students expelled from their universities who want to continue their studies abroad," the president's office said in a statement.
The statement did not give details.