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Guard gets two years in prison for failing to protect Belarus from teddy bears

Studio Total via EPA

A Swedish advertising agency parachuted the 879 teddy bears over a residential area in Minsk, Belarus, on July 4, 2012.

A Belarusian border guard was sentenced to two years in prison Monday for failing to report a border crossing by a Swedish plane that parachuted hundreds of teddy bears into the country carrying pro-democracy protest messages.


The sentence was announced by the Belarusian Supreme Court, which said the unnamed officer would be sent to a maximum-security facility, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.


The Associated Press and Charter 97, an independent news service opposed to the government of dictator Alexander Lukashenko, also reported the announcement.

The strife over the stuffies eventually escalated into a diplomatic war between Belarus, a former Soviet republic of about 10 million, and Sweden. Each nation expelled the other's ambassador after the parachute drop on July 4, which is also Belarus' Independence Day. Sweden has long been open about its desire to see democracy take root in Belarus.

Belarus didn't publicly acknowledge the airdrop until two weeks later, when Lukashenko criticized the military for allowing the plane to enter Belarusian airspace. He also fired the foreign minister and the generals in charge of air defense and the border patrol.

Authorities also arrested two civilians: a journalism student who put pictures of the teddy bears on his website and a property manager who offered an apartment to the plane's Swedish pilots, two of four pro-democracy advertising agents who dreamed up the stunt.  They told NBC News last year that they hoped the diplomatic spat would increase pressure on Lukashenko.

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