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Belarus accused of 'hijacking' plane to arrest activists, provoking outrage in the West

Belarus accused of 'hijacking' plane to arrest activists

May 25, 2021: -Belarus provoked outrage in the West after its warplanes for a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania and landing in Minsk. A passenger was arrested, dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it a “shocking act.” Over 170 people were reportedly aboard.

On a plane from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, the plane was in Belarus airspace when intercepted and forced to land in Minsk. Protasevich, a dissident journalist and passenger on the flight, was then arrested.

On Monday, Belarus, an ally of Russia, said its air traffic controllers could not “force” the Ryanair flight to land and gave the plane’s crew “recommendations,” Reuters reports citing Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

A news agency BelTA based in Belarus, reported that authorities scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in diverting the flights as it comes towards the Lithuanian border after the strongman President Alexander Lukashenko orders.

Ryanair confirms that the crew on flight FR4978 was notified by Belarusian air traffic control of a potential security threat. After it was landed, the plane’s safety checks were carried out, but “nothing untoward was found.”

Protasevich is a co-founder and former editor of the Nexta channel on Telegram, a key destination for the political opposition in Belarus. His arrest has provoked outrage in Europe and the U.S. who called for his immediate release.

Next attracted the ire of Lukashenko last year after it bypassed a news blackout and reported on anti-Lukashenko protests following a general election widely believed to have been rigged in the president’s favor. The Belarusian president has denied the election was fixed.

Next was designated an extremist organization by Belarus last year. In November, Belarus asked Poland to extradite Protasevich, who has been living in exile since 2019, and a fellow opposition activist to Belarus for their “continuing criminal activity” and involvement with Next and Next Live.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen likened the incident to a “hijacking,” while Belarus’ actions were dubbed “an act of state terrorism” by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, said it must not go unpunished.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis stated that he believed “Belarusian airspace is completely unsafe for any commercial flight. It should be deemed this not only by the EU but also by the international community.”

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