Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

In a long, rambling speech to lawmakers and top officials, President Alexander Lukashenko defended his decision to tell the Ryanair flight to land in his country, maintaining his contention that there was a bomb threat against it.

"The detention of Mr. Protasevich is an affront to the principles of political dissent and freedom of the press", the NAC said, calling on Belarus to respect worldwide law and human rights.

"This investigation is being carried out, but we are also conducting strenuous activities. aimed at giving this investigation an worldwide scope", he told a press conference on Wednesday.

Mirroring widespread global outrage over the incident, the Polish authorities have accused Minsk of violating worldwide law, committing piracy and "state terrorism" by "hijacking the plane".

President Alexander Lukashenko dismisses global outcry over incident in his first public statement since diverting a Ryanair flight to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. Protasevich faces up to 15 years in jail on charges of organizing mass unrest.

European leaders have described Protasevich's arrest as a state-sponsored hijacking and kidnapping, and on Monday called on airlines not to fly over Belarus, while barring Belarusian airlines from EU airspace and airports.

Western governments have already told their airlines to re-route flights to avoid Belarus's airspace and have announced plans to ban Belarusian planes.

Lukashenko has faced unprecedented pressure at home from months of protests triggered by his reelection to a sixth term last August, in a vote that the opposition and many Western nations reject as rigged. They agreed to draft more sanctions on officials linked to the diversion and ones targeting businesses provide income for Lukashenko's government.

"Our ill-wishers at home and overseas have changed their methods of attacking the state", Lukashenko said. "That's why they switched from organizing riots to trying to strangle us". "But this strategy is vitally important for the country", said Lukashenko, who sought to characterize the whole affair as a threat to Belarus' sovereignty.

"We were stopping migrants and drugs - now you will catch them and eat them yourself", he said.

He also threatened to retaliate against European Union sanctions by weakening Belarusian border controls that help halt westbound illegal migration and drug traffic. "We must do everything to prevent it to become a real war". The program is part of the EU's efforts to help Belarus and other ex-Soviet nations distance themselves from Moscow's influence and integrate into the West.

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