EU backs Sweden in Belarus teddy bear stunt row

A Belarusian opposition activist holds a teddy bear as she wears a satirical t-shirt near a court in Minsk on 9 August The row revolves around a stunt by a Swedish PR firm which dropped teddy bears over Belarus

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The EU has backed Sweden after urgent talks over a diplomatic row the country has had with Belarus.

A stunt by a Swedish PR firm which dropped toy bears with pro-democracy messages over Belarus led to Swedish diplomats being effectively expelled.

EU diplomat Olof Skoog said "a very clear message" would be sent to Belarusian embassies in the next few days expressing support for Sweden.

However, the EU stopped short of further action against Belarus.

The ex-Soviet republic has been subject to EU sanctions since 1996, two years after Alexander Lukashenko became president, but no new sanctions were imposed at Friday's meeting.

Reports before the meeting suggested a mass recall of EU ambassadors from Belarus would be discussed, but this did not transpire.

However, sanctions against Belarus will be reviewed again by the EU in October.

Sweden has responded by taking action against Belarusian diplomats.

'Swedish initiative'

Mr Lukashenko sacked his air defence chief and head of border guards after the incident on 4 July when some 800 teddy bears were dropped from a light plane.

Belarus's KGB state security service has also arrested two Belarusian men on suspicion of involvement in the stunt. One of them is said to have merely uploaded photos of the teddy bears.

Hannah Frey, a Swedish woman who says she piloted the plane which dropped the teddy bears, told the BBC's Russian Service that a total of four people had been involved in the stunt, all of them Swedish nationals.

She denied any knowledge of the Belarusian nationals currently under arrest.

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