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Minsk Recalls Entire Staff From Sweden

Hundreds of toy bears bearing pro-democracy messages were parachuted into Minsk by a Swedish PR firm.
European Union ambassadors will hold an emergency meeting on a row that has seen Belarus expel all Sweden's diplomats in what Stockholm calls retaliation for its pro-rights stance.

Belarus expelled Sweden's ambassador last week following the July 4 stunt in which hundreds of toy bears bearing pro-democracy messages were parachuted into the outskirts of Minsk from a light aircraft chartered by a Swedish public relations firm.

The Belarusian ambassador to Stockholm was also withdrawn.

Minsk announced August 8 that it is withdrawing its remaining embassy staff from Sweden, telling Stockholm to take similar action with its diplomats in Minsk.

Later the same day, EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton's spokesman said that envoys from the 27-member bloc would discuss the situation at an emergency meeting, but did not give details.

Two Belarusian men, blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau, have been charged with involvement in the teddy bears air drop which has been classified by officials as "illegal intrusion."

On August 8 the Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, asked Belarusian authorities to drop the charges against Surapin.

Surapin faces up to seven years in prison for uploading photos of teddy bears that had been dropped into Belarus by the Swedish plane.

Based on reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS

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