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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Belarus leader sacks PM
Alexander Lukashenko
Lukashenko has come under fire abroad for his authoritarian style
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has sacked his prime minister and two other ministers for failing to make sure agricultural workers were paid overdue wages.

Mr Lukashenko blamed Gennady Novitsky, along with Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Popkov and Agriculture Minister Mikhail Rusiy, for a "lack of discipline and efficiency" in government.

He made the announcement at an emergency meeting on the wage crisis, which he has frequently pledged to resolve.

Mr Lukashenko, who has been criticised abroad for his authoritarian style of rule, this week banned three media organisations, including Russian television channel NTV.

The ban followed the expulsion of NTV correspondent Pavel Selin, who had alleged police obstruction of opposition supporters following the funeral procession of writer Vasil Bykov last month.

Mr Lukashenko warned at the time that the reporting could have "negative consequences" for relations between Belarus and Russia.

Russia's press ministry expressed concern over the closure, saying that it represented another attack on press freedoms.

Command economy

Russia and Belarus have signed a loose union treaty, but correspondents say that the Kremlin is now starting to distance itself from Mr Lukashenko, who is regarded as unpredictable and is diplomatically isolated.

Mr Novitsky became prime minister after Mr Lukashenko's re-election as president in October 2001.

He will be replaced as acting head of government by Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky.

Mr Lukashenko frequently blames ministers for the poor state of the country's economy.

However, correspondents say his insistence on maintaining a socialist-style command economy in Belarus has held the country back.

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Country profile: Belarus
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