Coveney ‘extremely worrying’ as Ryanair flight grounded and passenger detained

Shutterstock  Fisher_Y

Shutterstock Fisher_Y

Agents from Belarus had tracked him down and arrested him after the flight's involuntary landing.

"We demand all passengers' immediate release", he added, calling for European Union action to "step up pressure on Belarus".

In 2020, Protasevich and Nexta founder Stepan Putilo, 22, were added to Belarus's list of "individuals involved in terrorist activity".

"ALL passengers must be able to continue their travel to Vilnius immediately and their safety ensured", she said, in a separate tweet.

Under Pratasevich, the Nexta-Live Telegram channel covered police brutality at the mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko after his re-election past year.

The incident comes as Belarus authorities intensify their crackdown on the opposition following historic protests that gripped the ex-Soviet country after last year's disputed presidential election.

The aircraft, flying from Athens to Vilnius, had nearly reached Lithuania when it changed direction and was escorted to the Belarusian capital of Minsk amid reports that it had explosives on board, according to an online flight tracker and state news agency BelTA.

The presidential press service said the bomb threat was received while the plane was over Belarusian territory.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen echoed this call.

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She warned: "Any violation of global air transport rules must bear consequences". It was closer to the Vilnius airport in Lithuania than Minsk at the time. Opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is asking for an investigation and sanctions against the government of Belarus. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the incident a "hijacking" and called for immediate sanctions on Belarus.

Similar statements have also been made by French and German officials.

Belarus a year ago designated Nexta an extremist organisation and has called for his extradition from Poland, where the channel's editorial team is based.

The two bloggers - who live in Poland - were added to the list based on earlier charges of causing mass unrest, an offence that can lead to up to 15 years of imprisonment.

'It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich, ' she said. He called on North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union to react to the threat posed by the Belarusian regime to civil aviation.

The opposition believes that Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the election, was the true victor of last year's presidential vote.

European Council president Charles Michel said: "I condemn in the strongest possible terms the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May 2021 and the reported detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Raman Protasevich". But Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said there were 171. The European Union and USA have not recognized his legitimacy and have imposed sanctions on his inner circle.

Although protests died down during the winter, Belarus has continued to take actions against the opposition and independent news media.

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