Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

  • Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

Air France, which operates several weekly services to Moscow, said it still planned to run its next scheduled Moscow flight on Friday, subject to Russian approval of a flight plan that would allow it to avoid overflying Belarus.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during a meeting with parliamentarians, members of the Constitutional Commission and representatives of public administration bodies, in Minsk, Belarus.

The decision follows a furious reaction from the European Union after a Ryanair flight from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday so that authorities could arrest opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

"They have crossed many red lines and crossed boundaries of common sense and human morality".

Belavia announced the cancellations "due to flight bans from a number of countries", after neighbouring Poland joined a growing list of territories that have barred it from flying over them, making more routes unviable.

"A second attempt to coordinate the route with Marseille's Air Traffic Control was also unsuccessful, including flights on routes passing over neutral waters, which is contrary to the norms of the Chicago Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea", it said.

The 26-year-old was the news editor of the enormously successful opposition news channel Nexta during the height of last summer's mass protests in Belarus.

President Vladimir Putin has been a valuable ally to Lukashenko, often referred to as "Europe's last dictator".

The Kremlin said on Wednesday there was no reason to doubt statements made by the Belarusian leader.

The Belarusian opposition has called for further global action against the regime.

Air France (AIRF.PA) cancelled a Paris-Moscow flight on Wednesday after Russian Federation failed to approve a new route bypassing Belarus, the airline said.

Russia's transport ministry told AFP that it had "no comment for now".

Belarus's opposition says such videos are routinely recorded by security forces, with participants forced to make statements under duress.

"They're going to kill him in there".

In response, EU leaders on Monday made a decision to ban Belarusian carriers from European airspace and airports as well as recommending that EU carriers should also avoid Belarusian airspace. The domestic airline Belavia mostly served transit passengers - and brought the country millions of dollars in revenue by doing so.

Many protest leaders - including now-exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who claimed victory in the August vote - fled the country, and the demonstrations have dwindled.

Speaking to the European Parliament via video link on Wednesday, Tikhanovskaya called for a series of concrete measures, including a ban on new foreign investments and on Belarus's main exports like oil and metal products, potash fertilisers and wood. Finland and Estonia have now also banned flights by Belarusian airlines from using their airspace.