MINSK, Belarus — Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has fired his Cabinet, emphasizing the need to strengthen the economy to preserve the nation's post-Soviet independence.
Lukashenko said he fired Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov's Cabinet for failing to execute his orders and for paying too little attention to the country's social needs. He appointed banker Sergei Rumas to succeed Kobyakov.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for 24 years, maintaining rigid Soviet-style controls over economy and showing little tolerance for dissent or independent media.
He warned Saturday that Belarus will not turn into a "vassal" of its giant neighbor, Russia, even though he underlined the importance of close ties with Moscow.
Belarus has long depended on cheap energy and other subsidies from Russia, which is facing its own economic woes and warned that it would scale down assistance to its ally.
Lukashenko criticized Russia for failing to honor its agreements with Belarus.
"We will never become a vassal to anyone," he said, warning against any attempts to encroach on Belarus' independence.
"We will remain independent for as long as our economy develops as needed," the Belarusian leader said, warning that "we won't be able to maintain our independence if we ruin the economy."