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By Dmitry Solovyov

Written by: Staff

MINSK, Mar 28 (Reuters) Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election sparked opposition protests, today abruptly delayed his inauguration without explanation, but declared ''all political battles'' were over in his country.

Lukashenko had been scheduled to take the oath of office on Friday and some opposition activists had been gearing up to mark their disapproval by launching a sticker campaign depicting a skull on a black background.

But Nikolai Lozovik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, said a new date would be set and the ceremony might now take place in the first half of April. He gave no reason for the postponement.

''We are now working on the new date which we will inform you of later,'' Lukashenko's spokesman, Pavel Lyogky, told Reuters.

The re-election on March 19 of the veteran leader, whose Soviet-style policies have brought condemnation in the West, has been branded fraudulent by the United States, the European Union and international observers.

The delay in the ceremony struck many observers as strange.

Belarus's state machinery, particularly when it relates to the president, runs with Soviet-style predictability.

''It's really hard to say. I believe the dust of those protests has not settled yet, plus these quick trials. He probably thinks that it'll get quieter in mid-April,'' said Vladimir, 53, a taxi driver.

After police crushed last week's demonstrations, the 51-year-old former state farm director, who rules with a rod of iron, would not want to run the risk of appearing to be under pressure from the opposition by delaying his inauguration.

Opposition activists had invited backers via the Internet to protest on Friday by placing ''black marks to Lukashenko'' stickers in public places. The stickers bore a skull, with features resembling those of Lukashenko, on a black background.

PRESIDENT BOUNCES BACK Immediately after his election, Lukashenko said a Western-inspired attempt to stage a revolution had been averted.

He then failed to appear in public for several days.

Today, despite switching his inauguration, he bounced back into the public eye, chairing a government meeting.

Looking his forceful self, he urged ministers to stick to production programmes and forecast good prospects for the next five-year plan, a Soviet-style institution still in use.

''All political battles are over,'' official news agency BelTA quoted Lukashenko as telling ministers. ''Despite some disturbances, we have put the country back in order, just as it used to be before.'' There was no immediate word from the opposition, which was meeting today to map out its next moves.

The election outcome sparked large opposition protests by Belarus's standards, culminating in a major rally last Saturday.

A march that followed was broken up by police, who detained many protesters, including at least one opposition leader.

Local rights group Vyasna said that yesterday local courts had jailed around 200 opposition supporters for up to 15 days.

Main opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, defeated by Lukashenko in the election, denounced the trials as a farce.

Second opposition leader Alexander Kozulin, arrested at the weekend, could face six years in jail on malicious hooliganism charges. He has said through his lawyer that he would not give up fighting.


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