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Belarus faces new sanctions over jetliner 'state piracy,' arrest of journalist

WorldMay 24, 2021 08:57PM ET
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3/3 © Reuters. A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas 2/3

By Sabine Siebold and Matthias Williams (NYSE:WMB)

BRUSSELS/KYIV (Reuters) -Western powers prepared to pile sanctions on Belarus and cut off its aviation links on Monday, furious after it scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair aircraft and arrest a dissident journalist, an act one official denounced as 'state piracy'.

In a video posted online, the detained blogger, Roman Protasevich, 26, said he was in good health, being held in a pretrial detention facility in Minsk, and acknowledged having played a role in organising mass disturbances in the capital last year.

In the video on the Telegram messaging app, he wore a dark sweatshirt and clasped his hands tightly in front of him. The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies, including his father, as having been made under duress.

A Polish deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, told private broadcaster TVN24 that his government had heard from Protasevich's mother about his being in poor health, but provided no details.

Belarus' Interior Ministry said Protasevich was being held in jail and had not complained of ill health.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday condemned Belarus for its actions and said he had asked his advisers to give him options to hold those responsible to account.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call on Monday with exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said the United States had "strong support for the demands of the Belarusian people for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms," the White House said.

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels called for Belarusian airlines to be banned from the 27-nation bloc's airspace and urged EU-based carriers to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic, according to a joint statement.

They also agreed to widen the list of Belarusian individuals they already sanction and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to urgently investigate Belarus forcing a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk on a Greece-Lithuania flight on Sunday.

"The reaction should be swift and be severe," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of the EU summit.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other EU countries, said: "This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored."

The EU and other Western countries also called for the release of Protasevich, who was detained when the plane landed.

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 last year. Sofia Sapega, a 23-year-old student travelling with him, was also detained.

OPTIONS APPEAR LIMITED

Some airlines and countries did not wait for guidance on how to respond to the diversion of the Ryanair flight.

Britain said it was instructing British airlines to cease flights over Belarus and that it would suspend the air permit for Belarus's national carrier, Belavia, with immediate effect. KLM, the Dutch arm of carrier Air France KLM (OTC:AFLYY), will temporarily halt flights, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

Still, the options for Western retaliation appear limited.

The Montreal-based ICAO has no regulatory power, and the EU 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.

Belarus lies on the flight path of routes within Europe and between Europe and Asia, and skirting Belarus would slow flights down and cost airlines money.

The EU and the United States imposed several rounds of financial sanctions against Minsk last year, which had no effect on the behaviour of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who withstood mass demonstrations against his rule after a disputed election.

Lukashenko denies election fraud. Since the disputed vote, authorities rounded up thousands of his opponents, with all major opposition figures now in jail or exile.

'BOMB THREAT'

NEXTA, a news service where Protasevich worked before setting up his own widely followed blog, ran an interview with his mother, who said that as soon as she heard reports of a bomb scare on a flight, she knew it was a plot to capture him.

"I just want to say that my son is simply a hero, simply a hero," Natalia Protasevich said, weeping. "I truly hope that the international community will wake up for him."

His father, Dzmitry Protasevich, said in an interview with Reuters: "This is total insanity, what is going on."

Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat written in the name of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied his group had any knowledge or connection to the matter.

Belarus said its ground controllers had given guidance to the flight but had not ordered it to land. State media said the intervention was ordered personally by Lukashenko.

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said he believed security agents had been on the flight.

Lithuanian authorities said five passengers never arrived, suggesting three others besides detainees Protasevich and Sapega had disembarked in Minsk.

Russia, which has provided security, diplomatic and financial backing to Lukashenko, accused the West of hypocrisy.

Belarus faces new sanctions over jetliner 'state piracy,' arrest of journalist
 

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Comments (7)
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Ad Cline May 25, 2021 2:15AM ET
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congrats Belrus you proven how paranoid you are of the truth
Gene Kret
Gene Kret May 25, 2021 1:54AM ET
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Bravo Belarus! There was too much news about rockets in the sand box anyway.
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Ad Cline May 25, 2021 1:10AM ET
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Scott House likes Russia Today with its Putin approved propaganda and debunked conspiracy theories.
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Ad Cline May 24, 2021 3:09PM ET
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the criminal leadership in Belrus, broke long standing international aviation agreements, as well as international law. Belrus leadership is a dictatorship, corrupt and guilty of brutality, torture, and illegal detention of its citizens. going after the press that tells the truth about this illegal regeme shows how deplorable and corrupt they are.
Yup Tub
Yup Tub May 24, 2021 3:09PM ET
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In 2013 Evo Morales'plane was forced to land in Austria to capture the fleeing US dissident Snowden which was suspected to be onboard.
EU Commissioner
EU Commissioner May 24, 2021 12:15PM ET
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Belarus did everything according common rules and practices. The one who is bad here is the WEST, which treats the Eastern European countries with the principle of superiority and applies colonization economic practices. Here, moreover, in the case of Belarus, he sponsors ********groups on its territory.
Yup Tub
Yup Tub May 24, 2021 12:15PM ET
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Lukanshenko also confessed the unforgivable sin of refusing almost a billion from the IMF to enforce a lockdown against Covid in Belarus.
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Ad Cline May 24, 2021 12:15PM ET
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the leadership in Minsk dosn't care about its own citizens unless they can make a profit. the IMF put strings on the money so they couldn't steal it.
Kaveh Sun
Kaveh Sun May 24, 2021 9:41AM ET
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Talk do no #. Do something as punishment. That will make stop stop and think about the consequences. ‘Kids’ only stop bad behaviors when they think about ‘pain’ they will get.
Joel Hauser
Joel Hauser May 24, 2021 9:41AM ET
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US is the only kid on the block going everywhere uninvited since 1776 son.
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Ad Cline May 24, 2021 9:41AM ET
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Joel hauser one of the supporters of dictators and their programs of oppression and corruption. the US and the EU need to lead the charge against the illegal regeme in Minsk. the people of Belrus want these criminals removed from their goverment.
Vlad Lozovskiy
Vlad Lozovskiy May 24, 2021 8:51AM ET
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Do not threaten. Finally show that you mean business. You have been threatening for 25 years that guy, and he does whatever he wants.
 
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