Belarus must pay if it hijacked a flight to capture a dissenter

IATA says it condemns any interference inconsistent with international law

Once on the ground, authorities arrested opposition activist Roman Protasevich, who was among the passengers.

European Union leaders at a summit on Monday called for airlines based in the 27-member bloc to halt flights over Belarusian airspace, which is along a major corridor connecting Europe and Asia and earns hard currency from overflight rights.

On Sunday a commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet, apparently on the orders of the country's longtime president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Aircraft have been told by the British government to avoid Belarusian airspace after the alleged state-sponsored hijack of a Ryanair flight so one of President Lukashenko's critics could be arrested. It later turned out that the bomb threat was false.

At least three other people disembarked the flight in Minsk, assumed by Western countries to have been spies who had helped co-ordinate an operation to capture Protasevich.

Western powers have widely condemned the incident, which NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described on Tuesday as a "state hijacking".

"We asked him what was going on... he said: 'The death penalty awaits me here'".

Contrary to early reports, there were no disturbances on board and the flight ran smoothly until it began to approach its destination.

"Mr Lukashenko's regime must be held to account for such reckless and risky behaviour".

Raman Protasevich in a new video released by Belarusian authorities.

Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, urged the government to call for the suspension of energy pipelines in Belarus.

Mr O'Leary said his airline will take guidance from European authorities about whether that should happen. Air France said in a statement it had "taken note" of the conclusions of Monday's European Union summit and had suspended flights over Belarus "until further notice".

She added: "Unless the consequences are swift, robust and co-ordinated it will create an extraordinarily unsafe precedent that will put journalists, dissidents and activists from the United Kingdom or anywhere else at risk every time they board a plane".

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken promptly and properly called for Pratasevich's immediate release.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has described it as "aviation piracy that's state-sponsored".

"That [safety of flights over Belarus] is exactly what needs to be assessed right now and we, both in terms of the global bodies we are part of and, as, as an administration with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] are looking at that".

"And I think that the incident has to be thoroughly investigated by the worldwide aviation authorities".

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said "the time of rhetoric and vocal expression is over and we need clear actions to change the pattern" of the Belarusian regime's behaviour.



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