Belarusian plane turns back after warning about French airspace

Henrietta Strickland
May 27, 2021

As reaction to Belarus' forcible diversion of a Ryanair flight continues to mount, the airline has lost access to airspace it needs to continue operating to destinations in Western Europe.

Speaking before lawmakers and top officials, President Alexander Lukashenko maintained his contention that there was a bomb threat against the Ryanair flight and called it an "absolute lie" that a fighter jet he scrambled was forcing the passenger plane to land in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

The criticism was nothing more than another attempt by his opponents to undermine his rule, he said, accusing them of waging a "modern, hybrid war" against Belarus and of crossing "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 change in flight routes must be approved by the authorities", said a spokesman for Lufthansa-owned Austrian Airlines.

Lukashenko - often dubbed "Europe's last dictator" - is facing some of the strongest worldwide pressure of his 26-year rule of ex-Soviet Belarus.

Lukashenko has faced unprecedented pressure at home from months of protests triggered by his reelection to a sixth term last August, in a vote that the opposition and many Western nations reject as rigged.

The Belarusian opposition has called for further and stronger measures and more protests. But Russia's support for Minsk means the UN Security Council is unlikely to agree a collective statement.

Air France has cancelled a second Paris-Moscow flight scheduled for Friday after Russian Federation failed to respond to another flight plan submission, the airline said. His father said the confession was coerced.

Protasevich's mother told AFP in Poland that she had not slept since he was arrested.

Sapega, a 23-year-old law student at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Lithuania, appeared in another video on Tuesday, saying she worked for a Telegram channel that disclosed information about Belarusian police.

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

"I'm asking, I'm begging, I'm calling on the whole global community to save him", Natalia Protasevich said, weeping.

In response, EU leaders on Monday chose to ban Belarusian carriers from European airspace and airports as well as recommending that EU carriers should also avoid Belarusian airspace.

But European Union leaders have denounced the move to divert the plane - which was traveling between two EU countries and being operated by an airline based in a third - as an act of piracy.

Tikhanovskaya on Wednesday urged the European Parliament to ban both new foreign investments in Belarus and the country's main exports.

Lukashenko is scheduled to visit Russian Federation on Friday to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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