EU envoys set to meet over teddy bear row

EU envoys set to meet over teddy bear row

EU envoys set to meet over teddy bear row

Teddy bears are parachuted over a residential area in Minsk in this July 4 photo. EPA photo

EU ambassadors will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow about a row that has seen Belarus expel all Sweden’s diplomats due to a pro-democracy demonstration involving an air drop of teddy bears on its territory.

“There will be an emergency meeting of the European Union ambassadors in Brussels Friday to decide on appropriate measures,” one source told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. The announcement came as Minsk expelled all Swedish diplomats and closed its mission in Stockholm, five days after the ex-Soviet state expelled the Swedish ambassador.

Support from UK’s Hague
President Alexander Lukashenko “is now throwing all Swedish diplomats out of Belarus. His fear of human rights [is] reaching new heights,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said “Sweden can be proud of its role championing human rights in Belarus,” via his Twitter account. Bildt thanked Hague in a reply message, saying it was important “that we all in the EU stand up for our values in Belarus.” Bildt last week said Ambassador Stefan Eriksson, who took up the post in Minsk in 2008, was expelled because of his pro-rights stance and meetings he had with the Belarus opposition.

The diplomatic dispute flared up after a plane chartered by a Swedish public relations firm dropped hundreds of teddy bears over Belarus on July 4 in a pro-democracy stunt, prompting Lukashenko to sack his air defense chief and the head of the border guards, Reuters reported. Lukashenko also told the incoming border guard chief not to hesitate to use weapons to stop any future air intrusions from abroad. Bildt called the expulsion “scandalous.” The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it viewed its measures as a “principle of reciprocity” since it had had no other choice but to close its embassy after its senior staff there were asked to leave.