Teddy bears defeat Belarus generals


Two generals in Belarus have been sacked after their country was invaded by hundreds of teddy bears.

A light plane pilot from neighbouring Lithuania was able to evade the country's air defences and drop the bears decked out in parachutes and slogans supporting human rights.

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has now sacked the air defence chief and the head of the Border Guards service.

Originally the ex-Soviet state denied the July 4 incident happened until Mr Lukashenko called a government meeting to berate authorities for allowing a "provocation."

"Why didn't the top brass stop that flight, whom did they feel pity for?" he exclaimed.

He also reprimanded several other top security officials.

A Belarusian journalism student and an estate agent have been accused of aiding the stunt face up to seven years in prison if convicted.

Thomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, two Swedes behind the stunt, said they wanted to show support for Belarusian human rights activists and to embarrass the country's military, a pillar of Lukashenko's power.

"Hopefully, we've made people more aware in the world and that there will be more people supporting Belarusian people," Ms Frey said.

The pair said they were inspired by similar protests staged by Belarusian activists, who have at times arranged plush toys in such a way that they appeared to be protesting the regime.

"Our campaign was a campaign in support of that. An airlift in support of the teddy bears, from teddy bears around the world," Mr Mazetti said.

Mr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, a nation of 10 million, since 1994. He has stifled dissent and independent media, earning the nickname of "Europe's last dictator."

He also has boasted about the capabilities of a joint air defence system that Belarus has formed with Russia, saying it provides a reliable shield against purported threats from Nato.

Valery Karbalevich, an independent Minsk-based political analyst, said purging the generals might be a way to save face in front of Moscow. The Kremlin may use the incident to try to put a Russian general in charge of the joint air defence system, he said.

"It looks like Moscow is cranking up pressure and demanding an answer as to why the much-acclaimed air defence system is riddled with holes," Karbalevich said.

Anatoly Lebedko, the head of Belarus' opposition United Civil Party, warned that Lukashenko may use the incident to crack down on dissidents in the run-up to a parliamentary election next month.