Belarus dictator sacks generals over teddy bear parachute drop
Hardman Alexander Lukashenko reads riot act over soft toy democracy protest
BELARUSSIAN despot Alexander Lukashenko has sacked two of his military chiefs after Swedish pranksters flew over the repressive state and dropped teddy bears bearing messages of freedom.
The operation was planned and carried out by three Swedish advertisers who moonlight as political protesters.
Tomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey flew the plane through Belarussian airspace, while the third, Per Cromwell, waited on the ground with a getaway car (the trio were convinced their light aircraft would be forced to land).
In the event, The New York Times reports, the plane took off from Kaunas airport in Lithuania and flew unmolested over Belarus - and the capital Minsk - for over an hour.
A video (below) filmed by Cromwell in a Belarusian village shows the plane making a number of passes while dropping its democracy-loving para-teddies.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, presides over a state described by the former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe".
Unsurprisingly, the dictator has shown a lack of humour over the teddy bear invasion. Last week he read the riot act to his military top brass, The Daily Telegraph reports. "How can this provocation with a light aircraft... be explained?" he asked. "Why didn't the commanders intercept this flight? Who were they sympathising with?"
Two military chiefs - Major General Dmitry Pakhmelkin, the air force chief, and Major General Igor Rachkovsky, chairman of the State Border Committee - have now been dismissed for "failing to ensure national security". And two civilians accused of helping the Swedes have been arrested and face up to seven years in prison.
If Lukashenko seems overly keen to stamp out the use of cuddly toys in protests, it might be because he fears an incipient 'cuddly toy spring'. In February, two men were imprisoned for ten days after placing soft toys holding placards in Minsk's Independence Square, according to Radio Free Europe. The slogans on the placards read 'Free the people' and 'Toys against lawlessness'.