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Belarus recalls entire embassy staff from Sweden: ministry
Belarus charges two over teddy bear air drop
Tue, Aug 7 2012
Belarus expels Swedish ambassador, EU weighs response
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Belarus expels Swedish ambassador
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Wed Aug 8, 2012 3:50am EDT
MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus said on Wednesday it was withdrawing its remaining embassy staff from Sweden in a rift over a pro-democracy stunt involving an air drop of teddy bears on Belarus and told Stockholm to take similar action with its diplomats in Minsk.
A foreign ministry statement said it was not severing relations with Sweden. But the move marked an escalation in the dispute and looked certain to worsen already strained relations between the European Union and the former Soviet republic.
Belarus expelled Sweden's ambassador on August 3 following the July 4 escapade in which hundreds of toy bears bearing pro-democracy messages were parachuted into the hardline former Soviet republic from a light aircraft chartered by a Swedish public relations firm.
The Belarussian ambassador to Stockholm was also withdrawn.
The foreign ministry said Minsk was now pulling out its remaining embassy staff because Sweden had aggravated the situation by expelling two more diplomats and had refused to allow a new Belarussian ambassador to take up his post.
"In this connection, the Belarussian side has been forced to take the decision to withdraw its embassy in Sweden and bring back all its (embassy) staff to Belarus," the statement said.
The incident was a humiliation for President Alexander Lukashenko, a hardliner who has been in power in Belarus since 1994 and is on poor terms with the West because of his harsh policies towards the political opposition.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Roger Atwood)
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