Belarus airline scraps flights amid European Union freeze-out

Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

On Wednesday, a Minsk-to-Barcelona passenger flight by Belarusian state carrier Belavia was forced to turn back after being denied entry to French airspace, while Poland banned Belarusian flights from using its airspace.

"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.

They said the bloc will introduce more sanctions targeting businesses that are the main cash earners for Mr Lukashenko's regime.

"Our ill-wishers at home and overseas have changed their methods of attacking the state", Lukashenko said, accusing them of crossing "red lines" and "boundaries of common sense and human morality".

In his first public statement since the Ryanair flight was diverted and opposition journalist and activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were arrested on Sunday, Lukashenko dismissed the global outcry.

Once the plane landed, Belarusian security agents arrested Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old journalist and activist, and his Russian girlfriend.

The airline said it had suspended flights over Belarusian airspace in line with a recommendation by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), making a route change for the Vienna-Moscow flight necessary. "This is not information warfare anymore, this is modern hybrid warfare".

A photo taken on May 23, 2021 shows a Boeing 737-8AS Ryanair passenger plane (flight FR4978, SP-RSM) from Athens, Greece, that was intercepted and diverted to Minsk on the same day by Belarus authorities, landing at Vilnius International Airport, its initial destination.

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Mr Lukashenko and his allies were already under European and USA sanctions over the violent crackdown on post-election protests that gripped the nation past year.

Pratasevich, who left Belarus in 2019, has become a top foe of Lukashenko because of a popular messaging app he ran, which played a key role in helping organize the huge protests.

Ryanair Flight 4978 had already begun its descent into the Lithuanian capital when the pilot announced that the plane would be suddenly diverting to Minsk, capital of neighbouring Belarus.

A United Nations official expressed concern for his welfare, saying his appearance likely was not voluntary and there seemed to be bruising to his face.

He had been charged in absentia with staging mass riots and fanning social hatred.

He also threatened to retaliate against European Union sanctions by weakening Belarusian border controls that help halt westbound illegal migration and drug traffic.

"We were stopping migrants and drugs - now you will catch them and eat them yourself", he said. He faced up to 15 years of jail on charges of organising mass unrest.

"We think that he may be in hospital", he told AFP.

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