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US, EU Condemn Belarus Over ‘Hijacking’ of Ryanair Plane to Arrest Opposition Journalist – NBC Los Angeles

Western anger grew and the European Union threatened further sanctions on Monday over the forced diversion of planes to Belarus to arrest opposition journalists. The dramatic gambit, which appears to have been ordered by the authoritarian president of the country to suppress the objections, has been accused of piracy, hijacking and terrorism.

According to Ryanair, a Belarusian flight controller told the crew that there was a threat of a bomb as the plane was passing through the country’s airspace and ordered it to land in the capital of Minsk. Belarusian MiG-29 fighters have been scrambled to escort planes — at a brave power show by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled with iron fists for over a quarter of a century.

The goal appears to have been the arrest of 26-year-old activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich, who ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organize large-scale protests against authoritarian leaders. .. He and his Russian girlfriend were taken out of the plane shortly after landing — and authorities did not say where they were detained. The plane, which began its journey in Athens, Greece, was eventually allowed to continue to Vilnius, Lithuania.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the diversion “shocking” and appealed for the release of Platasevic. EU leaders condemned the arrest, flew between the two member states of the block, and put particular emphasis on opposition to planes operated by Ireland-based airlines, which are also member states. I did.

Brock summoned the Belarusian ambassador “to condemn the unacceptable measures of the Belarusian authorities,” and said in a statement that the arrest was again “another explicit attempt to silence the voices of all opposition parties in the country.” It was.

Irish Prime Minister Mihor Martin told broadcaster RTE that the episode “reflects growing authority around the world.”

“These authoritarians are making this kind of pre-planned decision … we have to respond very strongly to it,” he said.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Reyen previously said it was a “hijack”, and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called it a “state-supporting terrorist act.”

EU leaders have tried to bring Belarus closer to the block in order to encourage democratic reforms and reduce Russia’s influence, but so far it has failed. On Monday, hours before the previously planned summit, some EU leaders threatened more sanctions, from the abolition of landing rights on the Belarusian state-owned airline block to exclusion from sporting events. I did.

The U.S. and EU have already become Belarusian top executives in months of protests triggered by Lukashenko’s re-election for his sixth presidential term in an August vote rejected by opposition as fraudulent. Imposing sanctions. Since then, more than 34,000 people have been arrested in Belarus and thousands have been brutally beaten.

Belarus’ Foreign Ministry accused it of saying a “warlike” EU statement on Monday, claiming that state officials acted “fully in full compliance with international rules.”

In tension, Lufthansa said the flight from Minsk to Frankfurt with 51 passengers was delayed on Monday following a “security warning.” Authorities searched the plane, put passengers on another security check, unloaded all luggage and cargo, and were finally allowed to leave with all passengers on board.

The flight tracker site showed that the plane was about 10 km (6 miles) away from the Lithuanian border when the plane was detoured. There are conflicting reports of exactly what happened.

Lukashenko’s press said the president himself ordered the fighters to accompany the plane after being informed of the threat of the bomb. Air Force Deputy Commander Andrey Gruzevic told Belarus National Television that the crew of the plane had decided to land in Minsk, and the fighters would “support civilian aircraft to ensure a safe landing.” He added that it was sent.

However, Ryanair said in a statement that Belarus’ air traffic control had instructed the plane to detour to the capital. I searched the plane but couldn’t find the bomb.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary described the move as “a state-sponsored hijacking … a case of state-sponsored piracy.”

“It’s very scary for the crew to find a bag for passengers detained under armed guards,” he told Irish radio station Talk Radio.

In a clear reference to the Belarusian security agency, still under the Soviet-era name KGB, O’Leary said he believed in “some KGB agents unloaded from the aircraft” in Minsk.

Passengers described the shock of Platasevic when he realized that the plane was about to land in Minsk.

“I saw this Belarusian guy whose girlfriend was sitting right behind us. He was surprised when the pilot said the plane was aimed at Minsk. The plane finally arrived in Vilnius. After that, passenger Marius Lutokauskas said, “I sat for an hour after landing. Then they began to release the passengers and took them with them. I never met them again.”

Pratasevich was the co-founder of the Nexta channel of the Telegram messaging app and played a key role in helping organize large-scale protests against Lukashenko.

Nearly 2 million Belarusians of the 9.3 million people followed this channel. This channel served as the main conduit for organizing demonstrations and provided advice on how to dodge police cordon lines. It also includes photos, videos, and other material recording the brutal police crackdown on protests.

Belarusian officials have named the channel “radical” and leveled accusations against Platasevic for inciting massive riots and inciting social hatred. If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison.

Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, Agnes Caramard, called his arrest arbitrary and said the impact on dissidents was alarming.

“This is the distance # Belarus is ready to go into crackdown,” she wrote in a tweet. “The international community must react in the strongest possible way to silence dissenting voices and to prevent repeated such aerial piracy.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say whether Belarusian authorities had contacted Russia about the episode. The two neighbors have close political, economic and military ties, and Lukashenko has relied on Moscow’s support in western sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he needed to reach out to Belarus immediately to investigate the episode, but could not hurry, and welcomed the promise of Belarusian authorities to conduct a transparent investigation.

Lavrov said Moscow would require access to the consulate to Sophia Sapega, a girlfriend of Platasevic, a student at the University of Vilnius.

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Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Liudas Dapkus of Vilnius, Lithuania, Sam Petrequin of Brussels, Sylvia Hui of London and Geir Moulson of Berlin contributed to this report.

US, EU Condemn Belarus Over ‘Hijacking’ of Ryanair Plane to Arrest Opposition Journalist – NBC Los Angeles Source link US, EU Condemn Belarus Over ‘Hijacking’ of Ryanair Plane to Arrest Opposition Journalist – NBC Los Angeles

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