Belarusian plane turns back after warning about French airspace

Belarusian plane turns back after warning about French airspace

In response, EU leaders on Monday chose to ban Belarusian carriers from European airspace and airports as well as recommending that EU carriers should also avoid Belarusian airspace. Air India and Vistara have regular passenger flights to the west.

The European Union said it was eyeing fresh sanctions on Mr Lukashenko's regime after the incident.

Speaking before legislators and senior officials in Minsk, Mr Lukashenko said: "Our ill-wishers outside and inside the country have changed their methods of attacking the state".

A Belarusian passenger plane flying from Minsk to Barcelona turned back on Wednesday, data from website Flightradar24 showed, after Poland said it may not be able to enter French airspace.

The track cycling event was due to be held in Minsk in June but was canceled after Sunday's dramatic interception of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius - and the detainment of anti-government journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The 26-year-old activist co-ran the Nexta Telegram channels, prominent voices of the opposition that helped mobilise and coordinate protesters. - The Belarus Interior Ministry said on May 24 that opposition activist Roman Protasevich, who was aboard the diverted Ryanair flight, is being held in the capital Minsk and dismissed unconfirmed reports that he was hospitalised.

He claimed that Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania had denied the Ryanair flight permission to land and that its only option had been to turn to Minsk. "This is not information warfare anymore, this is modern hybrid warfare".

The Belarus strongman and his allies are under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term last August. But he has only doubled down on repression, and more than 35,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, with thousands beaten.

We will enhance our efforts, including through further sanctions as appropriate, to promote accountability for the actions of the Belarusian authorities.

The ICAO, of which Belarus is a member state, said on Monday that it was "strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing".

He also threatened to retaliate against European Union sanctions by weakening Belarusian border controls that help halt westbound illegal migration and drug traffic.

Pratasevich had been charged in absentia with staging mass riots and fanning social hatred.

"We were stopping migrants and drugs - now you will catch them and eat them yourself", he said. The charges carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years, and some fear Mr Protasevich could face more serious charges, including some that carry the death penalty. "Still, we hope that those who rush to pass the point of no return to sober up and think twice before entering a slippery path of economic war in which there will be no winners".

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