Belarus releases transcript after Ryanair plane landing furore

Belarus releases transcript after Ryanair plane landing furore

Belarus releases transcript after Ryanair plane landing furore

European leaders are debating "severe consequences" for Belarusian authorities a day after a Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk before opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, who was onboard, was arrested.

According to the conclusions of the special European Union 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".

Protasevich fled to Europe in 2019 from where he co-ran the Nexta Telegram channels, a key Belarus opposition media that helped mobilise protesters.

Protasevich faces charges of inciting mass rallies in Belarus following last summer's disputed presidential election which triggered an unprecedented wave of protest across the country. That made Protasevich's Nexta and Nexta Live channels on Telegram, which accumulated almost 2 million subscribers, as a main source for where, when and how to protest.

Lukashenko and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on opposition protests that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term in August previous year.

Protasevich and Putilo were added to Belarus's list of "individuals involved in terrorist activity" a year ago. Ukraine said it would suspend air traffic with Belarus starting midnight Wednesday.

Ryanair Flight 4978 had already begun its descent into the Lithuanian capital when the pilot announced that the plane would be suddenly diverting to Minsk, capital of neighbouring Belarus.

Another exhausted passenger, speaking to reporters without giving her name, said Protasevich looked "super scared".

"I just want to say that my son is simply a hero, simply a hero", Natalia Protasevich said, weeping.

Belarus releases transcript after Ryanair plane landing furore
Belarus releases transcript after Ryanair plane landing furore

Moscow has dismissed the outrage in the West, saying Belarus was acting reasonably and within the law when the plane was diverted.

Belarusian state media have reported that Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted.

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.

"When it was announced they were going to land in Minsk, Roman stood up, opened the luggage compartment, took luggage and was trying to split things", said a Lithuanian passenger, who gave his name only as Mantas.

President Biden in a statement Monday that "this outrageous incident and the video Mr. Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press".

"I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and have asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible", Biden said, in a White House statement.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab raised the possibility of that Russian Federation had backed the operation.

Britain also issued instructions for British aircraft to avoid Belarusian airspace while Ukraine chose to halt direct flights between the two countries and over Belarus.

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