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Belarus asks Lithuania to probe teddy bear claims

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Belarus asks Lithuania to probe teddy bear claims
13:41 CEST+02:00
Lithuania on Friday was mulling a request by Belarus to probe claims by Swedish human rights activists that they flew across the border to make a drop of freedom teddy bears, angering Minsk.

Prosecutors in the Baltic state said they were asked for legal assistance "to investigate a possible breach of the state border when a Swedish-piloted light aircraft crossed the Lithuanian-Belarus border."

"Currently data is being collected, and the request for legal assistance will be considered," Ruta Dirsiene, the state prosecutors' spokesman told AFP.

The move came after Swedish activists illegally flew a plane into Belarus last month dropping hundreds of teddy bears attached to little parachutes carrying signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

Belarus -- ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko -- has since expelled all Swedish diplomats and threatened consequences for Lithuania after the incident orchestrated by a Swedish advertising firm.

"Lithuania should not be sitting like mice under a broom. They must answer to us why they provided their territory for national border violation," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

"If there is anyone who won't find it funny, it is Lithuania," Lukashenko warned.

Lithuanian officials have refused to comment.

"If teddy bears are a threat to the Belarusian administration, Lukashenko's regime must be cracking at the seams," Nerijus Maliukevicius, a political scientist at Vilnius University told AFP Friday.

He also drew a parallel between the teddy bear incident and the prosecution of the anti-Putin girl punk rock band Pussy Riot in Russia.

"Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko have come up against a tremendous evil to fight -- Pussy Riot and teddy bears.

"This should be viewed in an indulgent or humorous manner, however. Their behaviour is characteristic of authoritarian leaders. It may seem funny to us, but it is a tragedy for those who face it," Maliukevicius added.

Like Belarus, Lithuania won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.

But the two countries have followed very different paths since then.

Lithuania is firmly anchored in the West, having joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Later on Friday, ambassadors from the 27 EU states will meet to respond to the expulsion by Belarus of Swedish diplomats.

Brussels has already imposed a raft of sanctions against Belarus over its jailing of citizens for political reasons.

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