Belarus' external debt more than doubles in 2009

MINSK, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Belarus's external debt more than doubled last year to $7.9 billion from $3.7 billion at the beginning of 2009, according to preliminary data from the Finance Ministry.

Nearly all of that, or $7.8 billion, was public debt, while corporate debt decreased to $112 million from $130 million.

Minsk said that it is not worried by the increase in external debt, which last year amounted to 16.5 percent of the country's total gross domestic product.

"Foreign public debt indicators show that Belarus belongs to a group of countries with a low debt level," the Finance Ministry said in a statement.

The post-Soviet republic received almost $3.0 billion in standby loan from the International Monetary Fund last year, another $500 million from its neighbour Russia and a $200 million development loan from the World Bank.

In 2010, the government expects to receive the last tranche of the IMF programme, of nearly $700 million, as well as another $250 million from the World Bank.

Last week, the chairman of the National Bank of Belarus said that additional financial aid might be needed from the IMF after Belarus bended to Russian demands on the amount of duty-free oil the country can import.

Belarus' economy, like most emerging markets, suffered badly as in the aftermath of the financial crisis and global economic downturn, which shrank demand for the country's goods. According to preliminary estimates, the economy stagnated last year, after years of robust growth, spurred by exports.

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Lidia Kelly)


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