Belarus sacks air chief over teddy stunt


Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko has sacked his air defence chief and the head of the border guards for failing to stop a Swedish aircraft from dropping hundreds of teddy bears over the hardline state in a pro-democracy stunt.

The aircraft, chartered by a Swedish public relations firm, crossed into Belarussian air space from Lithuania on July 4th and dropped about 800 teddies near the town of Ivenets. Each bear carried a message calling for Belarus to show greater respect for individual human rights.

Yesterday the presidential press service said air defence chief Dmitry Pakhmelkin and Igor Rachkovsky, head of the border guards, had been dismissed “for not properly carrying out their duties in safeguarding Belarussian national security”. Other senior state security officials had been reprimanded too, it said.

In power since 1994 and once described as Europe’s last dictator by the US administration of George W Bush, Mr Lukashenko has been ostracised by the West because of a crackdown on his political opponents. Authorities in Minsk initially denied the air drop of teddy bears had taken place until Mr Lukashenko finally confirmed the incident last week.

At the time he made it clear that heads would roll over the stunt when he said: “This plane was discovered in time, but why did the [air defence] authorities not intercept the flight? . . . The guilty ones have to answer for this.”