Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

The flight had originated from Greece, but was forced to land in Minsk.

Speaking before legislators and senior officials in Minsk, Mr Lukashenko said: "Our ill-wishers outside and inside the country have changed their methods of attacking the state".

"They crossed numerous red lines, and also limits of reason and morale", Lukashenko said.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and took his sixth consecutive term past year after an election period marred by a brutal crackdown on mass protests against the leader.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the arrest of a Belarusian journalist over the weekend, and said Canada will evaluate whether further sanctions against the country are warranted.

"Continued persecution of journalists, attack on freedom of speech and life of journalists continue contrary to the requirements of the democratic world and global obligations of Belarus".

Belarusian authorities have presented no evidence that Sapega has links with the Telegram channel.

Moscow has also denied suggestions by Western politicians that it may have assisted its ally Belarus in the operation. Rights groups have documented what they say are hundreds of cases of abuse and forced confessions since previous year.

India on Wednesday "cautioned" its airlines to avoid overflying Belarus while operating to and from Europe, UK and North America.

French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday the European Union must "profoundly redefine" its relationship with Russian Federation and Belarus because "we are at the limits of sanctions policy", whilst German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that Lukashenko would pay "a bitter price" for the "heinous" flight diversion.

He also threatened to retaliate against European Union sanctions by weakening Belarusian border controls that help halt westbound illegal migration and drug traffic.

After weathering a wave of protests and Western sanctions a year ago, Lukashenko is facing renewed pressure over the incident. His prime minister said the country could ban some imports and restrict transit in response, without giving details.

The strongman leader accused his unnamed adversaries of "searching for new vulnerabilities" and using Belarus as a "testing ground" for future attacks against its close ally Russian Federation. Last year, it retaliated for sanctions by limiting some oil export traffic through a port in EU-member Lithuania.

"But this strategy is vitally important for the country", said Lukashenko, who sought to characterize the whole affair as a threat to Belarus' sovereignty. Those charges carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

But he has only intensified repression, and more than 35,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, with thousands beaten.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Wednesday the opposition was preparing a new phase of active anti-government protests.

"We were stopping migrants and drugs - now you will catch them and eat them yourself", he said.

ATTEMPTS TO ISOLATE BELARUS The United States and European leaders are seeking ways to increase the isolation of Lukashenko, who has shrugged off previous rounds of Western sanctions, which mostly consist of placing officials on black lists.

He also slammed the West's furious retaliation as an attempt to "suffocate" Belarus in an act of "hybrid war".

President Joe Biden on Monday said the forced diversion by Belarus of a commercial passenger jet so it could arrest an opposition journalist was "a direct affront to global norms" and condemned the action as an "outrageous incident".

Belarus's authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko is heavily reliant on Putin's support from an economic, military, and political standpoint.

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