Belarus replaces prime minister, central bank head

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus' authoritarian president on Saturday replaced his prime minister, the head of the national bank and an array of other top officials as the country weathers economic troubles.

The economics and industry ministers also were replaced by President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday. He appointed his former chief of staff, Andrei Kobyakov, as the new premier.

Belarus has retained a Soviet-style command economy to a large degree and concerns are rising that it will suffer from a spillover of the economic crisis in neighboring Russia. Earlier this month, Belarus imposed a 30-percent fee on currency exchanges in a move to stave off panic.

The Belarusian ruble suffered a 65-percent decline in value in 2011. In 2015, the country owes about $4 billion in debt payments, roughly two-thirds of its current foreign currency reserves.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, is expected to seek another term next year. Analysts suggested the Cabinet reshuffle was aimed at assigning blame before the election.

"The economic situation is catastrophic, store shelves are empty," said Alexander Klaskovsky, an independent analyst in Minsk. "Lukashenko found people to blame for the crisis and is transferring all responsibility to them."

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