Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has named the previous head of a state body overseeing the defense industry as prime minister, two months before a presidential election.
Raman Halouchanka, a 46-year-old former diplomat who had been heading the State Military-Industrial Committee, was promoted to the premiership on June 4, a day after Prime Minister Syarhey Rumas was dismissed along with his government after less than two years in office.
Analysts say the appointment of a man with experience in the defense sector is intended to consolidate Lukashenka's rule and could signal that the 65-year-old Belarusian leader's readiness to get tough if necessary to hold on to power.
Lukashenka, who has led the former Soviet republic for a quarter of a century, is widely expected to win a sixth term in office in an election scheduled for August 9.
His critics say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media, and none of the elections since he took power in 1994 has been deemed free or fair by Western standards.
'Discipline And Order'
At a meeting with senior officials, Lukashenka emphasized that Halouchanka would be "responsible for discipline and order in the government, for the final result," according to state news agency BelTA.
"Most importantly he is a reliable person who can be trusted," he added.
Lukashenka called for stability, saying: "Today is not the time for breaking things. It's not even time to build. Today, it is necessary to save what has already been built."
During a June 1 meeting with the chief of the Belarusian KGB, Valery Vakulchyk,, the president warned there would be no revolution in Belarus following mass rallies in Minsk and other towns and cities during which dozens of opposition supporters were detained.
The same day, prominent opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich was sentenced to 15 days in police detention.
Elections authorities had earlier rejected his bid to stand against Lukashenka in the upcoming election.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) last month warned that Belarusian authorities have intensified their crackdown on protesters, opposition bloggers, journalists, and other government critics with a “new wave of arbitrary arrests” ahead of the August vote.
Signaling their concern, the U.S., British, and European Union missions said in a joint statement on June 3 that "media freedom and the right of peaceful assembly are essential to legitimate elections."
"Journalists must be able to report freely and unhindered. Citizens must be allowed to peacefully express their opinions. This is why we are also concerned regarding the recent detentions of peaceful protesters and imprisonments of journalists," the statement said.
The country of 9.5 million people has been the target of U.S. and EU sanctions over its poor rights record and lack of fair elections, but Belarus and the West have recently sought to mend ties to reduce Russia’s influence in the country.