'Outrageous': PM condemns Belarus regime, calls for journalist's release

Pablo Tucker
May 25, 2021

European Union leaders have cut air links with Belarus, as the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko paraded a dissident journalist arrested after his flight was forced to land in Minsk.

The move came as Belarusian state television broadcast a 30-second video of Protasevich, who had been living between Lithuania and Poland, confirming that he was in prison in Minsk and "confessing" to charges of organising mass unrest.

One passenger told the Reuters news agency that Pratasevich started giving away things like his computer as soon as the pilot told them the plane would land in Minsk.

"This was a clear attack on democracy and the freedom of the press", Trudeau said during a press conference on Tuesday. There is no doubt that he was tortured.

BRUSSELS, May 25 ― Western powers prepared to pile sanctions on Belarus and cut off its aviation links yesterday, furious after it scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair aircraft and arrest a dissident journalist, an act one official denounced as "state piracy".

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, who referred to the incident as a state-sponsored hijacking, said he believed security agents had been on the flight. Belarus says it was responding to a bomb scare that later proved to be a false alarm.

In unusually swift action in Brussels, the European Union leaders also urged all EU-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus, made a decision to impose sanctions on officials linked to Sunday's flight diversion, and urged the International Civil Aviation Organisation to start an investigation into what they see as an unprecedented move and what some said amounted to state terrorism or piracy.

At least three other people disembarked the flight in Minsk, assumed by Western countries to have been spies who had helped coordinate an operation to capture Protasevich.

A passenger airplane heading to Lithuania from Greece landed briefly in Belarus on Sunday.

The diversion of a Ryanair flight en route to Lithuania by Belarus, leading to the arrest of a dissident journalist who was on board, has sparked worldwide outrage and calls for tough sanctions against the former Soviet-bloc nation. Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Air France, LOT and Singapore Airlines were among carriers that announced they would stop flying over Belarus. Some EU leaders called for banning Belarus' national airline or excluding the nation from sports events.

If all such measures are fully implemented, flights may soon be able to reach Belarus only by passing over its eastern border with its close ally Russian Federation. "We will post further updates as available", the organization said via Twitter. VIDEOTAPED "CONFESSION" Lukashenko, whose security services crushed months of pro-democracy demonstrations previous year after an election opponents said was rigged, has so far shrugged off Western sanctions, which mostly consist of blacklists barring various officials from travelling or doing business in the United States and EU. Politicians in the West have called for tougher measures.

Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist.

Russian Federation has said it is still too early to comment on the Ryanair incident, while accusing Western countries of hypocrisy and noting that a Bolivian presidential plane was diverted to Austria in 2013 after reports it was carrying US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Moscow has also denied suggestions by Western politicians that it may have assisted its ally Belarus in the operation.

Even before the airplane incident, it had imposed sanctions on Mr. Lukashenko and some of his associates after Belarusian elections a year ago and the violent crackdown that followed.

Asked about the arrest of Pratasevich, a key foe of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko who was on the same flight, Zisis said, "I saw him, but I did not know who or what he was".

In the video released overnight, Protasevich can be seen seated at a desk in a dark hooded sweatshirt.

"I can say that I have no health problems".

"The attitude of employees towards me is as correct as possible and according to the law". "Also, I now continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to organizing mass protests in Minsk".

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