Belarus will face 'consequences' after flight diverted, journalist pulled from plane

Detained blogger Roman Protasevich appears in new video as EU cuts air transport ties with Belarus

Belarus journalist Raman Pratasevich stands in an airport bus in the worldwide airport outside Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021, in this photo released by telegram Chanel

European Union leaders took a first step on Monday, agreeing at a summit to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc and calling on EU-based carriers not to fly over its airspace.

Leaders demanded the immediate release of the opposition activist, Roman Protasevich, and his companion Sofia Sapega, as well as an "urgent" investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Belarusian authorities have unleashed a brutal crackdown on demonstrations.

United Kingdom ministers have told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace following the arrest of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich after the Ryanair flight he was on board was diverted to Minsk. Protasevich may face up to 15 years in prison for organizing mass unrest, among other charges.

US President Joe Biden said late Monday that he asked his team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible in close coordination with the European Union other allies and partners and worldwide organizations.

Its air force chief said the plane's captain had chose to land in Belarus "without outside interference" and that the pilot could have chosen to go to Ukraine or Poland.

What happened on the Ryanair flight?

The European Union and the United Kingdom have issued new sanctions against Belarus in light of the incident, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps instructing the Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines avoid Belarusian air space "to keep passengers safe".

Still, the options for Western retaliation appear limited.

London also said it had issued instructions for British aircraft to avoid Belarusian airspace.

The Montreal-based ICAO has no regulatory power, and the European Union has no authority over flights taking off and landing in Belarus or flying over its airspace, apart from direct flights that originate or land in Europe.

Lukashenko - who scrambled a Belarusian fighter jet to intercept the Ryanair flight - has remained defiant in the face of sanctions with help from his main backer Russian Federation.

Asked about the arrest of Pratasevich, a key foe of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko who was on the same flight, Zisis said, "I saw him, but I did not know who or what he was". Since the disputed vote, authorities rounded up thousands of his opponents, with all major opposition figures now in jail or exile.

What do you think the worldwide community should do about Belarus's tactics?

Protasevich's father Dmitry Protasevich told AFP in Poland that he had not been able to contact his son since Saturday and that he did not appear himself in the video. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied his group had any knowledge or connection to the matter.

On Monday, outraged over the forced landing of the Irish-based airline's jetliner, European leaders moved to ratchet up the pressure on the regime. LUKASHENKO'S PERSONAL ORDER Belarusian state media have reported that Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted.

Ryanair's CEO Michael O'Leary described the move as "a case of state-sponsored hijacking ... state-sponsored piracy".

One passenger told the Reuters news agency that Pratasevich started giving away things like his computer as soon as the pilot told them the plane would land in Minsk. But they have failed to influence the behaviour of Lukashenko, who enjoys unwavering financial and security support from Russian Federation.



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