Six years after teddy bear row, Belarus revives ties with Sweden

FILE PHOTO: An employee rearranges the national flag of Sweden at the Swedish embassy in Minsk August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

Thomson Reuters

By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus appointed an ambassador to Stockholm on Tuesday, ending a six-year-old diplomatic spat over a pro-democracy stunt that saw hundreds of teddy bears airdropped by a Swedish public relations firm over the former Soviet republic.

In 2012, Minsk recalled its envoy to Sweden and expelled Sweden's ambassador after the toy bears were dropped over Belarussian territory, each carrying a message urging the authoritarian country to show greater respect for human rights.

Since then, President Alexander Lukashenko has heeded some calls from the West to show more leniency towards political opposition, seeking to improve ties with the European Union and lessen Belarus's dependence on neighboring Russia.

"We have an unjustifiably low level of relations with Scandinavian countries," Lukashenko's press service quoted him as saying as he appointed new ambassador Dmitry Mironchik.

"Sweden is a very important country for us," he said.

Lukashenko has run Belarus along Soviet-style command lines since 1994, but relations with the West have improved in recent years.

This is partly linked to the pardoning of several political prisoners, while the opposition is represented in parliament for the first time in 20 years following a 2016 election that Western observers said was not fully democratic but an improvement on previous votes.

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Peter Graff)

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