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Belarus generals fired after teddy bear invasion

The firings come after a Swedish advertising firm entered the countries airspace and dropped pro-democracy teddy bears from a plane.
Aug 1st 2012, 10:56 AM 5,987 11

BELARUS FIRED TWO senior generals yesterday after a small plane illegally crossed into the country and dropped hundreds of protest-sign-wielding teddy bears, officials said.

President Alexander Lukashenko dismissed the country’s top border control official and the top air force commander after the 4 July incident, in which a biplane flew over the border from Lithuania to airdrop the stuffed toys.

The bears were attached to little parachutes and held signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

“The chairman of the State Border Committee Major General Igor Rachkovsky and Air Force and Air Defence Commander Major General Dmitry Pakhmelkin are dismissed from their posts for inadequately carrying out their duties,” the president’s office said.

The Belarus air force initially denied reports a plane had breached its air space but authorities eventually launched a probe and videos of the plane flying over Belarussian towns circulated online.

Lukashenko also formally warned five high-ranking officials, including defence minister Yury Zhadobin, security council head Leonid Maltsev and KGB security service chief Vadim Zaitsev.

(ibelsat/YouTube)

The teddy bear stunt, orchestrated by a Swedish advertising firm, has generated huge interest in this Eastern European nation.

Authorities have arrested two people: real estate agent Sergei Basharimov and journalism student Anton Suryapin, holding the two men in a Minsk jail for weeks.

Videos released to Belarus media show two people in furry bear masks piloting the plane. In one clip, the plane flew over the town of Ivianiec before reaching the southern suburbs of Minsk, dropping a total of 1,000 bears.

On its website, the Swedish firm Studio Total says the teddy bear invasion is a campaign for opposition news website Charter97 and “aims to raise awareness on the situation in Belarus” concerning free speech.

Since his disputed election in December 2010, Lukashenko has been criticised for his clampdown on opposition figures and the European Union has repeatedly criticised the ex-Soviet state for rights abuses.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Belarus clamps down on access to ‘blacklisted’ websites >

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