Belarus expels Swedish ambassador for promoting rights

Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko meets officers during a military parade in Minsk on 3 July President Lukashenko (R) is said to be furious over a pro-democracy stunt by a Swedish PR firm last month

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Belarus has expelled the Swedish ambassador for meeting opposition groups and "destroying" relations between Stockholm and Minsk.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the accusations against Ambassador Stefan Eriksson were "ridiculous" and "groundless".

The move comes a month after a Swedish PR firm dropped hundreds of teddy bears over Belarus in a pro-democracy stunt.

Mr Bildt said Sweden would not welcome Belarus's incoming ambassador.

He added that two other Belarusian diplomats in Stockholm had also been told to leave.

In power since 1994, Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down hard on political opponents. His re-election in 2010 was marred by reports of abuses.

The teddy bear air drop, which took place on 4 July, is said to have infuriated Mr Lukashenko. He sacked his air defence commander and head of the State Border Committee in response.

The bears came down with little parachutes and had labels calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

On Thursday, Mr Lukashenko told border security officials to use weapons against any further incursions over Belarusian airspace.

Mr Bildt told reporters that there was no sign that Mr Eriksson's dismissal was linked to the teddy bear shower, but said "it might have had an impact on the general atmosphere".

"Fundamentally, this is about Sweden being engaged in democracy and human rights in Belarus," Mr Bildt said.

A spokesman for Belarus's foreign ministry said Mr Eriksson had directed his work in Minsk "not at strengthening Belarusian relations but at destroying them".

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