As global outrage grows, airlines shun Belarus air space
Airlines shunned Belarus’s air space on Tuesday and Belarusian planes faced a possible ban from Europe as international outrage mounted over Minsk forcing down a jetliner and arresting a dissident journalist who was on board.
A video released overnight showed 26-year-old Roman Protasevich confessing to having organised anti-government demonstrations hours after he was pulled off a flight from Greece to Lithuania forced down in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the video made for “distressing viewing” and Belarus would face consequences.
Belarus did not immediately comment on the torture allegation but has consistently denied abusing detainees. Rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of as abuse and forced confessions during a crackdown on pro-democracy activists.
France and Ireland have described the incident as piracy. On Tuesday NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called it a “state hijacking”.
Belarusian state media have reported that President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted. Belarus says it was responding to a bomb scare that later proved to be a false alarm. The UN agency ICAO has said the incident may have violated the foundational treaty governing international civil aviation, the 1944 Chicago Convention.
European Union leaders at a summit on Monday called for airlines based in the 27-member bloc to halt flights over Belarusian air space, which is along a major corridor connecting Europe and Asia and earns hard currency from overflight rights.
The EU leaders directed officials to draw up new sanctions against Belarus, and to work out a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc’s skies. Belarus’s neighbour, Ukraine, also announced a ban on flights to or from Belarus, and on its own airlines using Belarusian air space.
Lukashenko has so far shrugged off Western sanctions, which bar various officials from travelling or doing business in the United States and EU.
Politicians in the West have called for tougher measures. But they have failed to influence the behaviour of Lukashenko, who enjoys unwavering financial and security support from Russia.
Moscow denied suggestions by the West that it may have assisted Belarus in the operation. Russia has also accused Western countries of hypocrisy, noting a Bolivian presidential plane was diverted to Austria in 2013 after reports it carried US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
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