Lukashenko sack his PM following disputed re-election
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko sacked his long-serving prime minister Tuesday as he faced down international condemnation of his disputed re-election and arrests of opponents.
The former Soviet state's strongman leader gave no formal explanation as to why he was dismissing Sergei Sidorsky -- who had served as prime minister since 2003 -- and replacing him with the political veteran Mikhail Myasnikovich.
Lukashenko made only a brief comment in which he cryptically noted that "the government has to turn into a collective unit" in which everyone knows his place.
"Mikhail Vladimirovich Myasnikovich is precisely that sort of flexible person," Lukashenko said in comments carried by the BELTA state news agency.
The 60-year-old Myasnikovich has held various government posts since the Soviet era and served as the head of the president's administration between 1995 and 2001.
He currently heads the presidium of Belarussia's National Academy of Sciences -- a position that puts him at the heart of the country's various production industries.
Lukashenko has since his re-election needled his now-jailed opponents and faced down all criticism of a December 19 poll that gave him nearly 80 percent of the votes with his nearest challenger on a meagre 2.4 percent.
Belarus arrested more than 600 people after a massive rally gathered in central Minsk to protest results that Western observers said fell well short of international standards.
Those detained include five of the nine candidates who challenged Lukashenko and a large proportion of the country's leading opposition political and media figures.
They also included a group of Russian citizens whose arrest is turning into a new bone of contention between Moscow and Minsk.
President Dmitry Medvedev had initially described the election as the Russian neighbour's "internal matter".
But he then took six days to congratulate Lukashenko in a conspicuously dry statement which noted that "this letter was dispatched taking into account the official publication of the results by the Belarus election commission."
And on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry summoned the Belarussian ambassador to express its disappointment with a Minsk court's decision not to release 11 Russian citizens who were also detained in the anti-Lukashenko rally.
"The Russian foreign ministry once again underscores the need to immediately release all the Russian citizens detained in Minsk," the ministry said in a statement.
"Their further detention damages the political atmosphere of (our) bilateral relations," the statement added.
© 2010 AFP