Biden calls Belarus plane diversion an 'outrageous incident'

Biden calls Belarus plane diversion an 'outrageous incident'

President Alexander Lukashenko, facing a furious wave of retaliation from the European Union, Tuesday arrested more journalists, remained defiant.

"I acted in a lawful way, protecting people in line with worldwide rules", said Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century, relentlessly stifling dissent.

In his first public statement since the Ryanair flight was diverted and opposition journalist Roman Protasevich arrested on Sunday, Lukashenko dismissed the worldwide outcry the incident provoked.

"The Swiss authorities have no knowledge of a bomb threat on the Ryanair Athens-Vilnius flight", the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Belarusian authorities on Tuesday released a transcript of a conversation between the Ryanair plane and an air traffic controller.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko denied that the fighter jet was forcing the Ryanair plane to land as an "absolute lie" and defended his action to divert the flight as a necessary response to the bomb threat. The carrier has said its crew was instructed to land.

"As we predicted, our ill-wishers from outside the country and from inside the country changed their methods of attack on the state", Lukashenko, 66, told parliament.

"They crossed numerous red lines, and also limits of reason and morale", Lukashenko said.

Bilateral trade previous year was only $47.9 million, according to Belarus' foreign ministry.

Belarusian authorities then arrested blogger Raman Pratasevich, accusing him of inciting massive rallies last summer against Lukashenko's assertion of a landslide victory in last August's election, in which he won a sixth term as the country's leader with a claimed 80% of the vote.

European Union leaders at a summit on Monday had called for airlines based in the 27-member bloc to halt flights over Belarusian airspace, which is along a major corridor connecting Europe and Asia and earns hard currency from overflight rights.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Wednesday the opposition was preparing to stage a new phase of active anti-government protests in Belarus.

Diplomats said France, Ireland and Estonia would raise the incident at a private meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

He was arrested and, in a video released by Belarusian authorities on Monday evening, appeared to admit he was involved in organising mass protests in Minsk past year. His father said the confession was coerced. She was flying there on Sunday with Protasevich after their holiday in Greece to defend her master's thesis ahead of graduation, according to the university.

Her lawyer said she had been ordered held for two months of pre-trial detention and Russian Federation confirmed she was being detained as a criminal suspect.

"This outrageous incident and the video Mr. Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press", Biden's statement said.

Before her arrest, Sofia managed to write just one word to her mother on WhatsApp: "Mummy".

"I'm asking, I'm begging, I'm calling on the whole global community to save him", Natalia said, breaking down in tears during an interview with AFP near the train station in Wroclaw, southern Poland.

"From the looks of it, they choked him to beat evidence out of him" Protasovich said.

Politicians in the West have called for tougher measures that might isolate the country from the worldwide financial system or bar its exports.

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.

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