Belarusian president admits teddy bear bombing

By Paul Harper

Each bear dropped contained a message slamming the country's government.
Photo / Thinkstock
Each bear dropped contained a message slamming the country's government. Photo / Thinkstock

The president of Belarus has admitted a Swedish airplane entered the country's airspace to drop 800 pro-democracy teddy bears near the capital Minsk.

The bears, each containing a message slamming the country's authoritarian government, were parachuted over the town of Ivyanets on July 4.

Swedish PR firm Studio Total admitted the stunt, however until now Belarusian officials have denied the incident even occurred, labelling it a hoax.

However a clip proving the bear drop occurred was uploaded onto YouTube by the activists (skip to 3:30 to see the bear drop), and residents of Ivyanets have reported finding the bears on the ground.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has now acknowledged the teddy bear bombing took place.

"How can you explain the provocation involving a single-engine aircraft that crossed the Belarusian border with impunity? Safety of our citizens is the primary concern. Moreover, the aircraft was detected in advance. Why wasn't it stopped? Who took pity on it? Was it errors performed by individuals or errors in the very air border defense system? I would like to hear answers to these questions," state media BelTA reported him as saying.

"I would like to honestly and sincerely tell those, who are very interested in the matter, and those, who are present here: the perpetrators must be made responsible," Lukashenko said.

"As you can see I didn't rush to make decisions. You wanted to investigate the matter thoroughly. As far as I can see now, it has been investigated and the guilty ones should bear responsibility. On Monday at the latest I will make decisions, including personnel decisions."

Studio Total said the two-person crew took off from nearby Lithuania into the former Soviet country, where the bears were pushed through a small window on the plane.

The mission was a show of support for pro-democracy activists in Belarus, they said, with the bears carrying messages such as "we support the Belarusian struggle for speech".

The firm also slammed the government for the arrest of a Belarusian journalist Anton Suryapin, who published pictures of the teddy bears on his news website, Belarusian News Photos and is suspected of helping the Swedes with the bear drop. An estate agent named Basharymau has also been arrested by the Belarusian KGB for allegedly renting a flat to the Swedes in Minsk, Swedish website The Local reported.

In an open letter to Lukashenko, Studio Total founder Per Cromwell denied the pair had anything to do with the operation.

"Studio Total never told Anton Suryapin or indeed any other Belarus citizen in advance about what we planned to do. We love (respect) and admire them too much to expose them to such risks."

Cromwell labelled Lukashenko an "armed clown".

"Yes, we knew that you had ordered the shooting down of an air balloon that had drifted across the border into Belarus, thereby killing two innocent people. We also know that you regularly order assaults on innocent journalists, students and members of the opposition, as well as having them imprisoned. All this is indeed signs of weakness and fear."

Meanwhile Lukashenko has been denied entry into London for the Olympic Games, as he has been blacklisted by the European Union for the brutal crackdown on the opposition following his re-election in December 2010.

Lukashenko, who also chairs the Belarusian Olympic committee, slammed the decision. "The Olympic Games are not sports but politics. Dirty politics," he said, according to Interfax.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 01 Aug 2014 03:15:39 Processing Time: 1021ms