Belarus expelled the Swedish ambassador and recalled the entire diplomatic corps to Minsk in response to public relations act involving toy bears. A Swedish group airdropped toy bears on Belarus last month that carried pro-democracy slogans.
Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the U.S. government was "deeply concerned" about the situation in Belarus. Actions against the Swedish diplomats, he said, "only serve to deepen Belarus' self-isolation."
The United States in 2006 issued a national emergency that placed sanctions on Belarusian authorities for undermining democratic processes in the country. In a June decision, the White House renewed the emergency after taking note of a 2011 crackdown on political opposition and restrictions on the freedom of the press.
The U.N. Human Rights Council last month adopted a resolution expressing "grave concern" about the pattern of systemic abuses in Belarus.
Notable deaths of 2014 [PHOTOS]