The bizarre spat over the "teddy bear bombing" of Europe's most dictatorial regime has escalated after Belarus expelled all Swedish diplomats from Minsk and removed its own from Stockholm.
The Telegraph reported that Alexander Lukashenko, the hardline leader of Belarus, is said to have been enraged by the unusual protest, in which Swedish activists dropped scores of teddy bears wearing parachutes and pro-democracy signs on Minsk last month.
A statement from the Belarus foreign ministry today said it was not renewing the accreditation of Stefan Eriksson, the Swedish ambassador to Minsk, and announced that the entire staff of Sweden's embassy in the city must leave by the end of the month.
Belarus's state security service said two Belarusian men, Anton Suryapin and Sergei Basharimov, had been detained in connection with the case on suspicion of complicity in "illegal intrusion," according to Reuters.
BBC News reported that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Suryapin, who runs the Belarusian News Photos website, had merely uploaded photos of the teddy bears.
Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE's spokeswoman on freedom of the media, said she was "surprised and alarmed" at the charges, according to the BBC.
"I hope that he will soon be set free and cleared of all charges brought against him," she was quoted as saying. "I further hope that the 'teddy bear case' is not the latest attempt to suppress freedom of expression in Belarus using dubious criminal charges."
After Belarus announced further action on Wednesday, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a Twitter comment that Lukashenko's "fear of human rights [is] reaching new heights."