Alexander Lukashenko was sworn in for his sixth consecutive term as president of Belarus in a surprise ceremony on Wednesday, state media reported, following a disputed election that sparked mass protests in the country.
"Placing his right hand on the constitution, Alexander Lukashenko took the oath in the Belarusian language," state news agency BelTA reported.
It said that several hundred people had been invited to the ceremony in Minsk's Palace of Independence. The event's date had not been previously announced to the public.
Electoral authorities say that Lukashenko received more than 80% of the votes in the August 9 election.
Opposition supporters allege that the election was rigged. The European Union has declared the election "neither free nor fair."
Lukashenko, 66, has been the leader of Belarus, a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe between Russia and EU member state Poland, for more than a quarter century, tolerating little dissent.
There have been protests in Belarus against Lukashenko's leadership every day since the election, with such events regularly broken up by police. Weekend rallies in the capital Minsk have repeatedly been estimated to have drawn more than 100,000 people.
Lukashenko, a former collective farm director, has presented himself as a guarantor of stability and socialist policy in the state. Belarus is one of the poorest countries in Europe.
"The strength of the Belarusian government ... lies in the fact that even in the most difficult times we have not abandoned our policy of a socially oriented state," Lukashenko said at the inauguration ceremony.
"The support of pensioners, large families, socially vulnerable strata of society will remain a tenet of Belarus' course under any circumstances," Lukashenko said, according to speech excerpts carried by state media.
The team of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who claim that she was the actual winner of the election despite coming in second according to the disputed official tally, denounced Lukashenko's inauguration as illegitimate.
Anyone can be president, Tikhanovskaya's team said in a statement. "Take the constitution, put your hand on it, say a couple times 'I swear,' sign a paper saying 'I am president' and put it in your pocket."