Belarus leader fires diplomatic, oil officials

MINSK Fri Feb 4, 2011 11:29am EST

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MINSK (Reuters) - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko fired his industry minister, the head of the state oil company Belneftekhim and Minsk's ambassador to the European Union, his office said on Friday.

Lukashenko's office gave no reason for the dismissals of Belneftekhim head Valery Kazakevich, industry minister Alexander Radevich and ambassador to the EU Vladimir Senko.

However, the dismissals followed sanctions imposed on Belarus after a presidential election and an energy dispute with Russia, now resolved.

The EU and United States imposed the sanctions over the government's violent crackdown on street protests and arrests of opponents after Lukashenko won a fourth term in December's disputed election.

The EU agreed to ban Lukashenko and 150 other officials from traveling to the bloc -- which includes Belarus neighbors Poland, Lithuania and Latvia -- and to add those it believes were involved in the crackdown to a list of people affected by an EU asset freeze.

The United States also lengthened its list of Belarussian officials subject to travel restrictions and revoked temporary authorization for Americans to trade with two subsidiaries of Belneftekhim, imposing a full ban on transactions with the firm.

The dismissals also followed the resolution of the latest in a series of disputes between energy consumer and transit nation Belarus and Moscow, this one over the pricing of Russian oil supplies.

Western governments, concerned over allegations of human rights violations in Belarus, have pressed Lukashenko to free scores of protesters held after the December 19 vote, called flawed by international monitors and fraudulent by the opposition.

"Lukashenko had not expected that the West's reaction to the events in Belarus would be so strong," political analyst Valery Karbalevich said. "He had hoped that Belarussian diplomats would be able to resolve all issues. He believes they have done a poor job."

(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by David Stamp)

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