Belarus opposition calls for more pressure after plane arrest

  • Belarus opposition calls for more pressure after plane arrest

Belarus opposition calls for more pressure after plane arrest

European countries on Monday moved to sanction Belarus and ban its state airline from flying to Europe as they sought to punish Alexander Lukashenko's regime for forcing a Ryanair passenger flight to land in the country so it could arrest a leading dissident onboard.

They demanded Protasevichs release and urged European carriers to avoid Belarus airspace Polish carrier LOT and Baltic airlines have begun bypassing Belarus Air France KLM Finnair Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have all said they will also avoid flights over the country The UK which is no longer part of the EU also recommended that carriers don't fly over Belarus and British Airways flights were avoiding the country.

US President Joe Biden slammed the forced diversion of the plane and arrest of Protasevich as "a direct affront to global norms" and said the video appeared to have been made "under duress".

In November, Belarus placed Protasevich and Nexta's founder, Stepan Putilo, on a terrorist watch list, charging him with three protest-related crimes that could land him in prison for more than 12 years.

The footage showed Protasevich - who could face 15 years in jail - with dark markings visible on his forehead, saying he was being treated "according to the law".

President Biden called the diversion of the plane and arrest of Protasevich "a direct affront to global norms" and said his administration would "develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible".

This astonishing episode constitutes a new phase in the Belarusian authorities campaign of repression against journalists and civil society in general Colville said. European Union members Latvia and Lithuania, along with Britain, went ahead with instructions for their airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Belarus has insisted it acted legally over the grounding of the Ryanair jet, accusing the West of making "unfounded accusations" for political reasons.

On Monday however Belarus authorities said that the decision to land in Minsk was made independently by the pilot and that he had the option of going to either Poland or Ukraine.

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

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres backed calls for a "full, transparent and independent investigation into this disturbing incident".

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation slammed a "serious and unsafe incident" and said envoys from the military alliance were to discuss it on Tuesday.

Lukashenko and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on opposition protests that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term in August previous year.

But Lukashenko has remained defiant with help from his main backer Russian Federation.

"It's very hard to believe that this kind of action could have been taken without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow", he told parliament. They also removed from the plane Pratasevich's Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who studies at a Vilnius university.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a "strong and united response" from the European Union as the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell slammed "yet another blatant attempt by the Belarusian authorities to silence all opposition voices".

Appearing on several channels of the Telegram messaging app on Monday, Protasevich, 26, acknowledged playing a role in organising mass disturbances in Minsk past year.

With close to two million subscribers on the service, Nexta Live and its sister channel Nexta are prominent opposition vehicles and helped mobilise protesters in Belarus.