European fury over Belarus arrest of activist after forcing Ryanair flight to Minsk

European leaders have called for an immediate international response after Belarus on Sunday forced a Ryanair flight to Lithuania to land in Minsk and arrested one of its passengers, a key opposition activist.

State media reports that Roman Protasic, an online activist based in Lithuania, was arrested in the Belarusian capital shortly after Ryanair was abruptly transferred from Athens to Vilnius FR4978 shortly before leaving Minsk, Belarus.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the forced landing “absolutely unacceptable” and called on Belarus to allow all passengers to travel safely to Vilnius. “Any violation of international air traffic rules must have consequences,” he wrote on Twitter.

NATO says. “This is a serious, dangerous incident that requires an international investigation. “The Belarusian authorities must ensure the safe return of all personnel to Vilnius.”

Dominique Raab, the British Foreign Secretary, said Britain was “concerned” by reports of a forced landing, the arrest of Protasich. “We are coordinating with our allies. “This extraordinary act by Lukashenko will have serious consequences.”

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called for the activist’s immediate release and said he would raise the issue at Monday’s EU summit. “I urge NATO and its allies to respond immediately to the threat posed by the Belarusian regime to international civil aviation,” the statement said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said he had spoken to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, describing the incident as an insult to the EU as a whole, which should be as strong as possible.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiczki wrote on Twitter that he would call for “immediate sanctions” against Belarus. “The hijacking of a civilian plane is an unprecedented act of state terrorism. “It cannot go unpunished,” Morawiecki wrote.

Protasich, 26, is a former editor Next:, A Warsaw-based news team that played a key role in both coverage and directing huge complaints which erupted against Lukashenko last year after he declared victory deeply flawed elections,

“From now on, no one flying over Belarus can be safe.” Sviatlana ik ikhanuskaya– wrote the leader of the exiled opposition in Belarus on Twitter.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has personally issued an “irreversible order to turn the plane over and land” before leaving Belarus airspace, the Telegram said in a statement on its semi-official television channel.

In November, Belarus placed Protasevich on a terrorist watch list, accusing him of three crimes related to the protests, the most serious of which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Ryanair noted that the flight crew “was notified by Belarus [air traffic control] “On a possible threat to security,” he said, instructing to withdraw from Minsk.

Ryanair flight at Minsk International Airport on Sunday © AFP Getty Images

“Nothing has been found. Authorities cleared the plane after it was on the ground in Minsk for about five hours with the crew on board,” the statement said. The company “notified the relevant national and European security agencies”,

According to Protasich, who sent messages to his colleagues, he noticed that a man he suspected of being a Belarusian KGB agent was with him while he was in the departure hall of Athens. The man sat behind her in a boarding queue and tried to photograph her documents. Protasich said that the man asked him a “stupid question” in Russian and left.

The plane overturned near the Lithuanian border and landed in Minsk, according to flight delays. “Belarus has decided to shoot down a MiG-29 fighter to escort the plane after learning of the bomb threat,” Belta, the state news agency, was quoted as saying by Belta Air Force Commander Andrei Gurtsevich. Airport officials later said the bomb threat was “fake.”

Belarussian state television said officials were unaware that Protasich was on a flight, claiming he remained unaccounted for at the airport until his girlfriend sent her photo to other dissident bloggers.

But one of the passengers told the Lithuanian Delphi news website that Protasic was panicked when he realized that the plane was going to Minsk with his head in his hands.

When the plane landed, officials immediately apprehended Protasich, who was visibly trembling, and, according to an anonymous passenger, confiscated his luggage.

“We asked him what was going on. He said who he և added. “They will execute me here,” Delfi was quoted as saying.

Nexta provoked Lukashenko’s anger over the publication of the leak from official sources, as well as the coverage of the brutal pressure that the Lukashenko regime unleashed in response to last year’s protests. Telegram has more than 1.2 million subscribers and a huge audience in a country of just 9.5 million.

Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in unprecedented protests after the former head of the collective farm, who ruled Belarus for 27 years with an iron fist, won ik Ikhanuskaya in last year’s presidential election.

Most of the main opposition figures were either exiled, such as ik ikhanuskaya, based in Lithuania, or imprisoned.

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