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REUTERS, THE LOCAL (Sweden)

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Belarus announced on Wednesday it was pulling all of its remaining embassy staff from Sweden and gave Swedish authorities until August 30 to withdraw their own diplomats from Minsk. The move worsened a disupte about a pro-democracy teddy bear drop over Belarussian territory in July that embarassed authorities and further strained relations with the European Union.

Reuters reports that Belarus had already expelled Swedish ambassador Stefan Eriksson on August 3 after the teddy bear incident, in which a Swedish public relations firm parachuted 800 toy bears into the country with messages urging authorities to respect human rights.

In retaliation for Eriksson's expulsion, two Belarussian diplomats were expelled and a new ambassador to Sweden was refused entry after the previous one left his post several weeks before, according to the Local. The Belarussian foreign ministry accused Sweden of worsening the dispute with these decisions, which prompted Wednesday's announcement.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. His harsh policies towards the opposition have strained relations with the West and the European Union, according to Reuters.

Swedish Foreign Minister reacted to Wednesday's announcement on Twitter.

Lukashenko is now throwing all Swedish diplomats out of Belarus. His fear of human rights reaching new heights.

— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) August 8, 2012

We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe.

— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) August 8, 2012

Last week Stefan Eriksson was expelled for meeting with Belarussian opposition groups, according to the Local.

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