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EU enters row that pits bears against Belarus president

EU enters row that pits bears against Belarus president
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In its row with Belarus over a teddy bear air-drop, Sweden has won the backing of its EU partners.

A Swedish public relations firm blitzed the hardline state with toys in a pro-democracy stunt, deepening a diplomatic rift.

EU governments are now to reprimand Minsk for expelling the Swedish ambassador.

“There is going to be a very clear message to all Belarussian ambassadors around Europe in the next few days expressing the full solidarity with the Swedes on this,” said Olof Skoog, a Swedish diplomat who chairs talks on foreign policy issues among EU states. “Everyone around the table was extremely clear about the fact that this is not a situation merely between Sweden and Belarus. It is a situation that has erupted due to a decision by Belarus which affects EU relations with Belarus.”

Protesters in Belarus have denounced a crackdown on journalists there for posting pictures of the toys on the internet or posing for photos with them.

EU sanctions against Belarus were expanded this year amid growing concerns over civil rights abuses by President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

euronews spoke to the head of the Swedish advertising agency that was behind the teddy-bear stunt and first asked him: “Why Belarus?”

Per Cromwell answered: “Belarus is very close to Sweden. The situation in Belarus has got increasingly worse in the last couple of years, and the suppression of free speech and human rights. So we thought it was a good country to involve ourselves in.

“We are trying to make people aware of different things. In our daily business, it’s (a) brand, but we use the profits that we earn to put the attention to things that we think need more attention. It could be the freedom of speech in Belarus, it could also be unjust wages between men and women in Sweden, which we have done previously.

“We think using humour is an excellent way of protesting. This action was inspired by the previous action in Belarus using toys as a sign for protest. And we think a dictator can be feared, he can be hated, you could say a lot of things about a dictator, but as soon as you start laughing at a dictator he is in much bigger trouble.
A dictator fighting teddy-bears? He can’t really win that fight.

“Some of the journalists in prison now are in prison because they were doing a campaign in support for (the imprisoned photographer) Anton Suryapin. The European Union is talking about it and deciding about new sanctions, it’s a good thing. We did not really expect it to go this far, this fast.”