'Outrageous': Joe Biden condemns Belarus forced plane landing, backs sanctions

James Marshall
May 25, 2021

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

European countries moved to isolate Belarus on Monday by cutting air ties after it provoked an global outcry by forcing a commercial airliner to land so it could arrest an opposition activist. He proposed banning Belarusian planes from European Union airports and "serious sanctions" against the Belarusian government.

The Montreal-based ICAO has no regulatory power, and the European Union has no authority over flights taking off and landing in Belarus or flying over its airspace, apart from direct flights that originate or land in Europe.

Once on the ground, Belarus authorities arrested Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Belarusian state TV late on Monday broadcast a short video of Protasevich confirming that he was in prison in Minsk and "confessing" to charges of organising mass unrest.

In the video clip, Pratasevich, 26, said his treatment in custody was "maximally correct and according to law". He added that he was giving evidence to investigators about organizing mass disturbances.

Journalist Roman Protasevich was on board RyanAir Flight 4978 from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday when the plane made an unexpected landing in the Belarus capital.

Belarusian state media have reported that President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted. The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to encourage the crew to comply with the orders of air-traffic controllers.

Protasevich was detained after his flight touched down in Minsk. Officials have not said where they are being held. Air France, KLM, Finnair, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines have all said they will also avoid flights over the country.

Ryanair's CEO, Michael O'Leary, on Monday condemned Belarus' actions, telling the Irish radio station NewsTalk "this was a case of state-sponsored hijacking". Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied his group had any knowledge or connection to the matter.

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.

His social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent past year.

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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Minsk was taking an "absolutely reasonable approach" while ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked the Western indignation.

Protasevich's mother, Natalya, in a phone interview with NEXTA said she was proud of him.

"I want to say just that my son - he's a hero".

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged the global community to go further in isolating the regime.

"I looked directly into his eyes and he was very sad", she said.

On Monday night Pete Buttigieg, the United States secretary of transportation, said in a statement: "We strongly condemn the actions the Belarusian government took to force the diversion of a Ryanair flight for the apparent objective of arresting journalist Roman Pratasevich".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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