Air France among airlines to suspend flights over Belarus after plane ‘hijacking’

  • Air France among airlines to suspend flights over Belarus after plane ‘hijacking’

Air France among airlines to suspend flights over Belarus after plane ‘hijacking’

The U.S. and the European Union already have imposed sanctions on top Belarusian officials amid months of protests, which were triggered by President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election to a sixth presidential term in an August vote that the opposition rejected as rigged.

Looking exhausted and seeming under duress, he said he was healthy and was confessing to charges of organizing mass disorder.

"My treatment from officers has been maximally correct and according to the law". Protasevich in the video denied he was suffering from any health problems.

Belarus's strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko sparked worldwide outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to encourage the crew to comply with the orders of air-traffic controllers. Officials have not said where they are being held.

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

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said he believed security agents had been on the flight. They reiterated this claim in Tuesday's statement.

Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat written in the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

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

"We, the Soldiers of Hamas, demand Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip", the message read by Sikorsky began, going on to demand the European Union stop supporting Israel. The flight had originated from Greece, but was forced to land in Minsk.

European leaders have dismissed the Belarusian explanations, in fact, before Monday's summit, Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, called them "totally implausible".

Pratasevich, a former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, was detained by police when Belarusian authorities searched the plane.

Protasevich has left NEXTA and now runs his own popular blog.

The Belarusian authorities have unleashed a brutal crackdown on demonstrations.

Protsevich's father Dmitry on Monday told Radio Free Europe he feared his son might be tortured in Belarus. Sapega, 23, is a Russian citizen, studying at a university in Vilnius.

"I just want to say that my son is simply a hero, simply a hero", Natalia Protasevich said, weeping.

The rights group Amnesty International said the international community needs to make sure this method of silencing "dissenting voices is never repeated".

"I looked directly into his eyes and he was very sad", she said. VIDEOTAPED "CONFESSION" Lukashenko, whose security services crushed months of pro-democracy demonstrations past year after an election opponents said was rigged, has so far shrugged off Western sanctions, which mostly consist of blacklists barring various officials from travelling or doing business in the United States and EU.

"There must be an immediate, international, transparent, and credible investigation of this incident", Buttigieg added.

Russian Federation has said it is still too early to comment on the Ryanair incident, while accusing Western countries of hypocrisy and noting that a Bolivian presidential plane was diverted to Austria in 2013 after reports it was carrying USA intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.