Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's inauguration ceremony Wednesday was more like a surprise party than the usual grand occasion—and his countrymen were the ones getting the surprise. After more than a month of massive protests over August's disputed election, Lukashenko was sworn in for a sixth term Wednesday in a secret ceremony that wasn't announced until it was already underway, the New York Times reports. Opposition leaders called the ceremony a "farce" and likened it to a "thieves' meeting." Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the election's main opposition candidate, said in a statement that she was the "only leader that was elected by the Belarusian people."
Tikhanovskaya fled the country last month after filing an official complaint about election results that showed Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, with 80% of the vote. "This was not the confident inauguration of a man who really believes he has 80% of the country behind him," says Jonah Fisher at the BBC. "Everything about it was aimed at avoiding a public reaction. There was no prior warning that the ceremony would take place, and even when proceedings were underway there were no live broadcasts on state television or radio." Fisher notes that loyal officials were bussed in to provide an audience for the ceremony, but there were none of the usual foreign dignitaries present—"not even the Russian ambassador." (Read more Alexander Lukashenko stories.)