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Diverted to Minsk Ryanair flight lands in Vilnius Diverted to Minsk Ryanair flight lands in Vilnius  (ANSA)

Belarus: EU leaders decry plane “hijack” and arrest of journalist

European leaders express outrage after Belarusian authorities force a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk, to arrest an opposition journalist who was on board.

By Vatican News staff writer

Several European leaders have expressed outrage after Belarusian authorities on Sunday forced a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk, and arrested an opposition journalist who was on board.

Under what reportedly turned out to be a false bomb alert, the passenger plane flying from Athens to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to the Belarusian capital, and was escorted there by a fighter jet. Upon its landing, authorities took 26-year-old Roman Protasevich into custody.

International criticism

Ahead of an EU leaders summit scheduled for Monday, European Council President Charles Michel Sunday night said in a statement, that “EU leaders would discuss this unprecedented incident” during the European Council and it “not remain without consequences.”

“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May 2021 and the reported detention by Belarusian authorities of journalist Raman Pratasevich,” Michel said.

“I call on Belarus authorities to immediately release the detained passenger and to fully guarantee his rights.”

In the same vein, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen in a tweet on Sunday said: “the outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences. Those responsible for the #Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned.”

She went on to call for the release of journalist Roman Protasevich and noted that the European Commission would discuss what action to take.

Clamping down on protesters

Since winning a disputed presidential election in August 2020, Belarusian president Luvashenko who has been in power since 1994 has clamped down heavily on protesters in the country.

Many opposition leaders have been arrested and many more have fled into exile since protests began in August.

Dozens of Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko, are already under EU sanctions including travel bans and assets freezes, imposed in response to the repression on opponents.

24 May 2021, 15:37