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Lukashenka Reshuffles Cabinet As Economy Stagnates

Lukashenka's cabinet reshuffle is thought to be linked to the economic crisis.
MINSK, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has sacked the economy, trade, and tax ministers in the biggest government reshuffle in years as he seeks to overturn economic stagnation.

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

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

Its exports halved this year as demand and prices for Belarusian 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.

Defense 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 defense minister.

Lukashenka 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.

Lukashenka has long been criticized 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.