Belarus has now ordered all Swedish diplomats out of the country, a week after expelling the Swedish ambassador for having contact with opposition groups.
“(President Alexander Lukashenko) is acting like the bully he is,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, in an article in The Local. Swedish ambassador Stefan Eriksson had served in that post since 2008.
The action comes a month after an air-drop of several hundred teddy bears bearing free-speech slogans near the capital city of Minsk. The stunt was pulled off by a Swedish public relations firm. Belarus officials at first insisted it was all a hoax, but later conceded it had taken place.
Two Belarus citizens arrested for conspiring with the Swedes are still being held, even though the organizers of the drop insist the men had no part in the stunt. The Belarus KGB is demanding the two pilots who carried out the air-drop return to Belarus to face charges of violating Belarusan airspace, according to a Radio Netherlands report.
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has also dismissed his country’s top border control official over the incident.
Sweden has retaliated by withdrawing residency permits for two Belarus diplomats and refusing to accept a new ambassador who had been recently appointed by Lukashenko, according to The Local.
According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the European Union has expressed its concern over the matter. Belarus is already under several sanctions levied by the EU over its handling of political prisoners.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is quoted as saying its members are “committed to the modernization of Belarus and the th spread of European values, in particular democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”