Belarus: G7 foreign ministers' statement, 27 May 2021

Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

Lukashenko - often dubbed "Europe's last dictator" - is facing some of the strongest global pressure of his 26-year rule of ex-Soviet Belarus.

Russian Federation said Friday that Western countries were being irresponsible and endangering passengers by banning flights over Belarus in response to President Alexander Lukashenko's forced grounding of a Ryanair flight.

The meeting comes as worldwide condemnation of Belarus continues to grow following what leaders have described as the state-sanctioned hijacking of a passenger flight.

"There was an impression that remarks by Europeans were staged in advance and each country played its part", Gudkov told TASS, adding that "there was no forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk, neither an air traffic controller nor the scrambled fighter jet of the Belarusian Air Force forced a pilot to change direction".

"The Swiss authorities have no knowledge of a bomb threat on the Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight", the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Once the plane landed, Protasevich - the 26-year-old co-founder of opposition Telegram channel Nexta, which coordinated last year's protests against Lukashenko - and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

At a briefing in Vilnius, where she fled to after last year's election, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya today called for an "economic boycott of the regime".

"The president conveyed the European Union stands ready to engage in all possible ways to accompany a peaceful democratic transition in Belarus, and outlined in her letter the EU's comprehensive plan of economic support to a democratic Belarus of up to three billion euros ($3.7 billion)", spokeswoman Ana Pisonero said.

"Therefore, there have been no announcements from the Swiss authorities to the Belarusian authorities on this matter".

At a press conference in Warsaw, Dmitry Protasevich said his son has been denied access to independent lawyers and doctors.

"We think that he may be in hospital", he told AFP.

Belarus's opposition says such videos are routinely recorded by security forces, with participants forced to make statements under duress. "We believe his life and health could be in danger".

Last year's months of protests against Lukashenko, which involved tens of thousands of people, were brutally quashed and thousands were detained.

On Wednesday, dozens of people marched through the streets of Beryozovka east of Minsk for the funeral of Vitold Ashurok, 50, a well-known opposition activist who died Sunday from cardiac arrest in a penal colony in eastern Belarus.

Speaking to the European Parliament via video link on Wednesday, Tikhanovskaya called for a series of concrete measures, including a ban on new foreign investments and on Belarus's main exports like oil and metal products, potash fertilisers and wood.

The call at the United Nations for the ICAO investigation echoes an earlier one from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

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