The European Union (EU) agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on Belarus, including a ban on the use of airspace and 27-nation block airports by Belarusian airlines, in response to the forced diversion of a passenger plane to arrest an opposition journalist.
EU leaders have denounced the “hijacking” of a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday and demanded the immediate release of journalist Raman Pratasevich, a key opponent of authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
A short video clip of journalist Pratasevich, who ran a popular messaging app that played a central role in helping organize mass protests against Lukashenko, aired on Belarus state television Monday evening, a day after he was taken off a company plane. Ryanair.
Pratasevich said he was in good health and said his treatment in detention was “maximally correct and in accordance with the law”. He added that he was giving evidence to investigators about organizing mass riots.
In a swift response in Brussels, EU leaders also urged all EU-based airlines to avoid flying over Belarus, agreed to impose sanctions on officials linked to the flight divert on Sunday, and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to of Civil Aviation to launch an investigation into the event which they see as an unprecedented act and which some said was state terrorism or piracy.
Germany’s Lufthansa and the Dutch airline KLM have banned flights over Belarus.
The text was quickly approved by leaders who were determined to respond with a “strong reaction” to the incident due to “serious endangerment of aviation and passenger safety on board by the Belarusian authorities”, according to an EU official with direct knowledge. for discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the crew that there was a bomb threat against the plane as it was passing through Belarusian airspace on Sunday and ordered it to land.
The Belarusian army sent a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to force the aircraft crew to comply with orders from the Belarusian flight command.
Belarusian authorities later arrested Lukashenko, an activist, journalist and critic. Pratasevich, 26, and his Russian girlfriend were taken off the plane shortly after he landed, and authorities have not said where they are being held. Flight Ryanair FR4978, which departed from Athens was allowed to continue the journey to Vilnius, Lithuania.
U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on the incident and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan raised the issue in a phone call with Russian Security Council Secretary White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She added that the administration condemned what she called a “shocking act” of diverting a flight to stop a journalist./VOA