Belarus leader sacks ministers as econony stagnates

MINSK, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday sacked the economy, trade and tax ministers in the biggest government reshuffle in years as he seeks to overturn economic stagnation.

Lukashenko's office said Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko was replaced with the deputy head of presidential staff, Nikolay Snopkov. Defence Minister Leonid Maltsev and Security Council Secretary Yuri Zhadobin swapped places.

Belarus, whose economy has been run along Soviet-style command lines by Lukashenko since 1994 and which is heavily dependent on subsidies from neighbouring resource-rich Russia, suffered heavily from the global crisis alongside its bigger neighbour.

Its exports halved this year as demand and prices for Belarussian machinery and agricultural and chemical products plummeted. Gross domestic product fell 1 percent in the first 10 months after years of growth.

"Of course this is primarily linked to the crisis, to declining economic indicators," said independent political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky.

"But looking at the people, who came in, I would not say there are a new generation of people," he added.

Defence Minister Leonid Maltsev will become secretary of the Security Council -- an appointment likely to be viewed as a promotion rather than a downgrade because his new post is considered one of the most powerful in Belarus.

The former secretary, Yuri Zhadobin, will become the new defence minister.

Lukashanko sacked the country's tax, information and trade ministers as well as the head of state truck giant MAZ, whose exports plummeted sharply this year.

Lukashenko has has been long criticised as authoritarian in the West. Relations have improved in the past year after Belarus undertook some political reforms and released detainees deemed political prisoners by the West.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy) (Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov, +7 495 775 12 42)


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