UK planes told to avoid Belarusian airspace

The Ryanair jet – which was travelling from Athens in Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania – carrying over 100 passengers was diverted to Minsk on the basis of a false bomb scare in order to arrest a dissident journalist, reports Asian Lite News

The government has issued a notice to advise all UK airlines to cease overflights of Belarusian airspace after a Ryanair flight was diverted to Minsk and an opposition journalist arrested.

The Ryanair jet – which was travelling from Athens in Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania – carrying over 100 passengers was diverted to Minsk on the basis of a false bomb scare in order to arrest a dissident journalist.

Roman Protasevich, 26, was removed from the plane and arrested at Minsk airport on Sunday.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has summoned the Belarusian Ambassador over the United Kingdom’s deep alarm at the Belarusian authorities’ reckless actions yesterday, the government said in a statement.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted that the move was necessary “to keep passengers safe”, the BBC reported.

Dominic Raab

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs the interception of the flight had been a “shocking assault on civil aviation”.

“The scenario as reported is a shocking assault on civil aviation and an assault on international law. It represents a danger to civilian flights everywhere and it is an egregious and extraordinary departure from international law and international practice,” Raab said.

The UK government said it is calling for the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to urgently look into this matter and is working with international partners and allies on a shared response, including through the UN Security Council, the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe and at the G7.

Journo’s whereabouts unknown

The whereabouts of dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, who was taken into custody after a passenger plane he was on was forced to land in Minsk, remain unknown on Monday.

Protasevich is blogger and activist who was wanted in his homeland for inciting protests against long-time President Alexander Lukashenko, among other charges.

His father, Dmitry, said in an interview with Belarusian radio broadcaster Radio Svoboda that he was convinced that the careful operation did “not only involve” the country’s secret service.

Russia is a close ally of Belarus.

“The operation was of a large enough scale to spit on the entire international community and their opinion,” added the dissident’s father, who called the forced landing “an act of terrorism.”

“We are very worried about our son,” said Dmitry Protasevich.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know where he is and how he’s doing.”

Belarusian state media reported that the plane’s diversion came on Lukashenko’s personal instructions, after he had purportedly been alerted to a possible bomb on board.

He also ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet be scrambled to accompany the Ryanair plane, according to the Belta news agency.

Lukashenko, 66, has led Belarus, a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe bordering EU states Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, for more than a quarter of a century.

EU to cut air links with Belarus

Governments across Europe reacted with outrage, suggesting authoritarian Belarus used the pretext of a safety threat to conduct a “state hijacking” of a civilian airliner to go after a critic.

Leaders of the European Union (EU) member states on Monday agreed to cut the bloc’s air links with Belarus following Sunday’s Ryanair flight diversion incident.

According to the conclusions of the special EU summit on Monday, the 27-member bloc strongly condemned the incident which endangered aviation safety and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to urgently investigate “this unprecedented and unacceptable incident.”

Leaders of the member states urged the European Council to adopt the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines, prevent access to EU airports of Belarusian flights, and called on all EU-based carriers to avoid overflight of Belarus, according to the conclusions. (with inputs from ANI)

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