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You're reading: Belarus sacks foreign minister after teddy bear row

MINSK - Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko sacked his foreign minister on Monday, weeks after a diplomatic row with Sweden and the European Union over a pro-democracy stunt in which hundreds of teddy bears were airdropped over the country.

Lukashenko’s office, which announced the dismissal of Sergei
Martynov, 59, who had held the post since 2003, did not provide
any reasons for the decision. Lukashenko named 54-year-old
Vladimir Makei, previously his chief-of-staff, as the country’s
new foreign minister.

Earlier this month, Belarus expelled Sweden’s ambassador
after a plane chartered by a Swedish public relations firm
dropped about 800 toy bears over the authoritarian country in
July, each carrying a message urging the former Soviet republic
to show greater respect for human rights.

Lukashenko sacked two generals, including the head of air
defence, and told the incoming border guards chief to use
weapons if necessary to shoot down any future foreign intruders
into Belarussian air space.

The move damaged already strained relations between Minsk
and the European Union, which has long criticised Lukashenko’s
policies and has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on him
and other senior officials.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko has tolerated little dissent
and routinely locked up political opponents, earning the title
“Europe’s last dictator” from the U.S. administration of George
W. Bush.

The latest wave of sanctions was triggered by his
government’s crackdown on opposition after a December 2010
presidential election. Lukashenko won a fourth term in office at
the time but faced large public protests and allegations of
vote-rigging afterwards.

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