Belarus fines two for toy bear photos after airdrop
MINSK (Reuters) - Authorities in Belarus arrested and fined two journalists for posing for photographs holding teddy bears after hundreds were dropped by air on the country in a pro-democracy stunt, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said on Thursday.
Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president, also suggested on Thursday that the Swedish embassy in Minsk had been involved in planning the July 4 escapade, in an outburst likely to widen a diplomatic rift with Sweden over the incident.
"Those who came and prepared the violation of the state border worked together with the (Swedish) embassy. We have proof of this," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the Belarus state news agency Belta.
The journalists' arrest and Lukashenko's accusation underlined the depth of his anger and embarrassment over the stunt and his determination to punish those he views as being responsible for it.
The two journalists, Irina Kozlik, who works for Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, and Yulia Doroshkevich, a press photographer, were each fined 3 million Belarusian roubles (about $400) at separate court hearings in Minsk and released.
An official for the ex-Soviet republic's journalist association said that Kozlik, 27, and Doroshkevich, 31, were detained on Wednesday evening in the capital Minsk.
The two women were accused of "carrying out an unsanctioned protest," Andrei Bastunets, deputy head of the association, told Reuters.
The July 4 stunt, in which a light aircraft chartered by a Swedish PR firm Studio Total dropped 800 toy bears carrying pro-democracy messages over Belarusian territory, prompted Lukashenko to sack his air defence and border guards chiefs and expel Sweden's ambassador.
The teddy bear "blitz" was the latest pro-democracy stunt aimed at mocking Lukashenko's iron grip on a country he has ruled since 1994, three years after the Soviet Union's break-up. Continued...