Belarus' Lukashenko: Economic crisis to last two years

Belarus MapMinsk - Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko on Tuesday warned citizens that effects from the world financial crisis would be felt in the former Soviet republic for at least two years.

"We need to survive 2009 and 2010, and I can tell, these two years will not be simple," the authoritarian leader said in remarks broadcast by the state television company.

"But we shouldn't panic, the situation in the country can be controlled," he added. "I have seen three economic crises in my time (as Belarus' leader), and we have the tools to overcome this one."

Belarus' mostly centrally-planned economy is reeling from the effects of the world financial crisis, Lukashenko conceded, with the state increasingly unable to continue subsidising social welfare payments and inefficient production by state-owned companies.

But the massive size of the government sector in Belarus, combined with a generous social safety net, will lessen the effects of a weakening economy on average Belarusians, Lukashenko claimed.

"We will not throw people by by the wayside," he said. "We see what happened in Russia ... the crisis came, and the business closes and people are out on the street."

"It is our great luck, that we did not jump to privatise our economy," Lukashenko argued.

Belarusian producers needed to fight for market share and to seek new customers, he said.

"The dangerous thing is for those enterprises (state-owned businesses) that will cut production," Lukashenko said. "We have to find business wherever we can, wherever possible."

Lukashenko's remarks came one day after thousands of small businessmen targeted by the Belarusian government for increased taxes protested in the capital Minsk.

The Ministry of Economy on Monday announced an "anti-crisis" plan aimed aimed at stabilising markets. Planned measures included energy price subsidies, tax reductions, and excise duty breaks for state-owned businesses.

Isolated from wealthy Western markets due to Lukashenko's poor human rights record, Belarus currently trades mostly with Russia. Lukashenko has attempted to expand exports into countries with poor relations with Washington, particularly Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. (dpa)