Belarus ordeal: Breach of international aviation rules

    Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell on Monday called for an international investigation after Belarus forced a Ryanair passenger jet to land in Minsk, in an apparent effort to arrest an activist journalist.

    “In carrying out this coercive act, the Belarusian authorities have jeopardized the safety of passengers and crew,” Borrell said in a statement issued on Monday.

    “An international investigation into this incident must be carried out to ascertain any breach of international aviation rules,” the statement went on.

    The Belarusian Transport Ministry on Monday announced it had set up a commission to carry out its own investigation into the forced landing and would publish the results soon, according to a report by the Russian RIA news agency.

    EU to discuss incident at summit

    The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, said EU leaders will discuss the incident at an EU summit beginning on Monday, adding that the affair would not remain “without consequences.”

    He called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release the detained passenger.

    An EU spokesman said the leaders would discuss “possible sanctions” on Belarus. High-level officials in the country have already been sanctioned by the bloc over the brutal repression of the opposition, protesters and journalists following disputed elections in August 2020.

    What happened?

    On Sunday, a Ryanair jet flying from Athens to Lithuania was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and diverted to Minsk International Airport after being told a bomb was on board.

    No explosives were found on the aircraft, but Raman Pratasevich, a former editor from the Minsk-critical Telegram channel Nexta, was allegedly taken into custody. Pratasevich is a known critic of Belarus’ long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko and his government.

    After hours of delays, the plane was later allowed to fly on to Lithuania — but at least four people, including Pratasevich’s girlfriend, did not reboard the plane.

    What does Ryanair say?

    Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary told Irish radio station Newstalk that the forced landing “was a case of state-sponsored hijacking … state-sponsored piracy” carried out to detain a dissident journalist.

    O’Leary said his company believed that some Belarusian secret service agents had been on the plane as well.

    Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney echoed O’Leary’s remarks, calling the incident “aviation piracy, state-sponsored.”

    He told state broadcaster RTE that sanctions on Belarus with a “real edge” were needed in response.

    The low-cost airline Ryanair is headquartered in the Irish capital, Dublin.

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