European Union leaders agree Belarus sanctions after plane ‘hijack’

  • European Union leaders agree Belarus sanctions after plane ‘hijack’

European Union leaders agree Belarus sanctions after plane ‘hijack’

European Union leaders have cut air links with Belarus, as the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko paraded a dissident journalist arrested after his flight was forced to land in Minsk.

A Greek national was among the five passengers on board the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius who did not reach their final destination after the airliner was intercepted by a Belarusian warplane and forced to land in Minsk Sunday, according to a Bloomberg report.

They agreed to ban Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27nation bloc imposed sanctions on officials linked to Sundays flight diversion and urged the International Civil Aviation Organization to start an investigation into the episode some described as state terrorism or piracy.

In the end, the leaders adopted their conclusions on Russian Federation, and some diplomats said the incident with the plane had hardened some views toward Putin, who has expressed unwavering support for Lukashenko. VIDEOTAPED "CONFESSION" Lukashenko, whose security services crushed months of pro-democracy demonstrations a year ago 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. They also removed from the plane Pratasevich's Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who studies at a Vilnius university.

Even before the airplane incident, it had imposed sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko and some of his associates after Belarusian elections previous year and the violent crackdown that followed.

A brief video clip of Mr Protasevich, who ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organise massive protests against Mr Lukashenko, was shown on Belarusian state television on Monday night, a day after he was removed from the Ryanair flight.

He was arrested and, in a video released by Belarusian authorities on Monday evening, appeared to admit he was involved in organising mass protests in Minsk past year. "I think he made a mistake".

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 global organizations.

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.

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

"He would never speak like that".

The plane was accompanied by a fighter jet that had been scrambled to guide it to the Belarusian capital.

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

Neighbouring Ukraine has also said it would halt direct flights between the two countries and over Belarus.

In unusually swift action in Brussels, the European Union leaders also urged all EU-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus, chose to impose sanctions on officials linked to Sunday's flight diversion, and urged the International Civil Aviation Organisation to start an investigation into what they see as an unprecedented move and what some said amounted to state terrorism or piracy.

Last year's protests gripped the country for months, with tens of thousands taking to the streets to denounce Lukashenko's rule.

Belarus authorities then arrested the 26-year-old activist, journalist and prominent Lukashenko critic.

The Belarusian authorities have unleashed a brutal crackdown on demonstrations.