Belarus loses European cycling championships over plane ‘hijacking’

Belarus loses European cycling championships over plane ‘hijacking’

Belarus loses European cycling championships over plane ‘hijacking’

Air India and Vistara have regular passenger flights to the west. They agreed to draft more sanctions on officials linked to the diversion and ones targeting businesses that are the main cash earners for Lukashenko's regime.

But the text also says signatories must "refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight and that, in the case of interception, the lives of persons on board and the safety of aircraft must not be endangered".

On Thursday, Enrico Della Casa, president of the European Cycling Union, said: "We have recently been monitoring the situation with the Belarus Cycling Federation which has now developed into an global debate and today during the Management Board meeting, we have made a decision to cancel the event in Minsk".

Once the plane landed, Protasevich - the 26-year-old co-founder of opposition Telegram channel Nexta that coordinated protests last year against Lukashenko - and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania had denied the Ryanair flight permission to land and its only option was to turn to Minsk, he said.

Mr Lukashenko has faced unprecedented pressure at home with months of protests triggered by his re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition rejected as rigged.

In his first public statement since the Ryanair flight was diverted and opposition journalist and activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were arrested on Sunday, Lukashenko dismissed the worldwide outcry.

The Belarus strongman claimed the flight was ordered to be grounded following a bomb threat that was sent from Switzerland.

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

The EU call followed the forced landing in Minsk on Sunday by Belarusian authorities of a Ryanair plane operating a flight between Athens and Vilnius, over what turned out to be a false bomb alert. "They have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals. It's a modern hybrid war, and we need to do everything to prevent it from spilling into a hot conflict".

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

Belarus was stripped on Thursday of cycling's European Championships, in response to the forced grounding of a passenger jet and arrest of a leading opposition figure.

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

Pratasevich had been charged in absentia with staging mass riots and fanning social hatred.

Protasevich, who had been living between Poland and Lithuania, appeared in a video on Monday in which he confessed to helping to organise mass unrest, a charge that could land him in jail for 15 years.

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