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Belarus expels Swedish ambassador
Photo: AP

Belarus expels Swedish ambassador

Published: 03 Aug 2012 15:10 GMT+02:00
Updated: 03 Aug 2012 17:04 GMT+02:00

"Lukashenko regime has expelled Swedish Ambassador to Belarus for being too supportive of human rights. Outrageous. Shows nature of regime," Bildt said via Twitter on Friday.

Carl Bildt has furthermore added that Sweden has responded by blocking the arrival of the new Belarus ambassador and by expelling two diplomats.

Writing on his blog, Bildt described the decision to expel the Swedish ambassador Stefan Eriksson as a "serious breach of protocol".

"It is no secret that our relations with the Minsk regime are strained. And the situation has become even more tense since the seriously fraudulent presidential election in December 2010 and the political prisoners that we have since noted."

Carl Bildt admitted that Sweden, along with other EU countries, maintains a "relatively extensive" programme of support for civil society groups in Belarus.

"Not least to organisations which work with human rights in Belarus," he wrote.

Swedish relations with Belarus have been in stark focus recently after Stockholm-based PR company Studio Total dropped 879 teddy bears bearing various messages calling for freedom of expression from a light aircraft in early July.

President Lukashenko was at first loath to accept that the flight was real and that the country's air-space had been breached.

But on Thursday President Alexander Lukashenko sacked two of the nation's top defence officials after calling a meeting last week to scold his staff for allowing what he described as a "provocation".

Studio Total on Friday expressed the belief that the expulsion of the ambassador was a direct result of their teddy bear flight.

"That seems logical," Studio Total founder Tomas Mazetti told the Expressen daily.

However Martin Uggla, an expert on Belarus at the Swedish human rights NGO Östguppen, argued that the decision has more profound reasons.

“It’s a bigger issue than that. Sweden has criticized Belarus for abusing human rights for a long time. Now they want to punish Sweden," Uggla told The Local.

“Now they want to cool off the escalating criticism that they have received."

Uggla observed that Sweden's ambassador has held a high profile concerning the issue of human rights in Belarus.

"Stefan Eriksson has had a significant profile in Belarus and been openly criticizing them for abusing human rights for a long time," adding that he expects Eriksson to continue this work from at home in Sweden.

Carl Bildt confirmed that Eriksson will remain as Swedish ambassador to Belarus but will be be based in Stockholm for the time being.

"Now with a clearer focus on democracy and freedom of speech issues in Belarus," he said.

Bildt revealed that he had been asked by the Belarusian foreign minister to promise to reassign ambassador Eriksson future when they met at an EU meeting on July 23rd.

"He explained that his president was getting increasingly irritated and referred both to the fact that ambassador Eriksson had attended a meeting organized by the opposition, and that we at the embassy had given support to volunteer groups."

"I of course dismissed any suggestion of such an agreement," Bildt proclaimed.

Carl Bildt furthermore defended Sweden's right to maintain contact with civil society groups, pointing out that he presumed the Belarusian embassy in Stockholm also maintained similar contacts in Sweden.

Bildt stated that the decision will be discussed by the EU and that Belarus will suffer various consequences after Friday's events.

Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with a iron fist since 1994, basing much of his hard man reputation on the defence of the nation's borders, including the capabilities of the joint air defence system it shares with Russia.

Valery Karbalevich, an independent Minsk-based political analyst, explained the move to purge the generals as an attempt to save face in front of Moscow.

"It looks like Moscow is cranking up pressure and demanding an answer as to why the much-acclaimed air defence system is riddled with holes," Karbalevich told the Associate Press news agency on Thursday.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

Follow Peter on Twitter here.

With additional reporting by Salomon Rogberg.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

16:48 August 3, 2012 by rise
Ooo tough guy this the president Alexander Clown.
19:56 August 3, 2012 by Hisingen
Upset the likes of Lukashenko at your peril. About as stable as Assad, and just as 'nice'.
20:12 August 3, 2012 by rise
Upset? I think it's the world's duty being an annoyance for dictatorships. Be it North Korea, Belarus or whichever. It may be dangerous, of course, but the world shouldn't let them last forever anyway.
23:35 August 3, 2012 by Texrusso
He is a MAD MAN and a foolish clown :D Shameless....
23:37 August 3, 2012 by occassional
Expel the ambassador is the least they could have done after that silly airspace incursion stunt, whosever bright idea that was. The pilot is lucky to have come out of it alive.

Funny though how Sweden chooses which dictators to 'upset'.
08:29 August 4, 2012 by RobinHood
On behalf of our dear leader, the President I want to make it clear, teddy bears, Swedish ambassadors, and anyone whose name is Ted, Teddy or Edward, is unwelcome in the peoples' paradise that is Belarus. Anyone who even mentions any of those names will be arrested and re-educated by Igor, the dear leader's personal secret policeman. The country formerly known as Sweden has been removed from all Belarusian maps and no longer exists. Igor will enforce that rule as well.

Bought to you by the official spokesman for the dear leader and president of Belarus: remember, we are watching you and we know where you all live.
12:15 August 4, 2012 by rise
#6

Now there you hit the bull's-eye! :D
12:54 August 5, 2012 by Camlon
Isn't it kind of hypocritical to be so mad about getting an ambassador kicked out, when Sweden does the excact same thing in response.

I really don't get the outrage. So what if Sweden got kicked out by a dictatorship. Belarus doesn't matter.
15:51 August 5, 2012 by rise
Personally I don't believe anyone in Sweden really is mad about it or even thinks of it much. But still sometimes you may need/want to, as it is put in Swedish media, "sätta hårt mot hårt" (an English translation would sound something like "set hard towards hard").
13:48 August 8, 2012 by robban70226
so....Stefan Eriksson be a member of the Elephant grave now?
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