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Outrage and sanctions threatened over Belarus journalist arrest – Riverside, California

Riverside, California 2021-05-25 00:35:02 –

The dramatic bet by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of state terrorism and piracy.

Brussels, Belgium-The European Union agreed on Monday to impose sanctions on Belarus, including banning the use of airspace and airports in 27 countries in anger over the forced diversion of passenger planes to arrest opposition journalists.

EU leaders are the main enemy of the prestigious Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in response to what he called a serious “hijack” of Ryanair’s jet liner flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday. He demanded the immediate release of journalist Raman Platasevic.

“We do not tolerate trying to play Russian roulette in the lives of innocent civilians,” said Charles Michel, chair of the Council of the European Union.

A short video clip of Platasevic, who ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in organizing a large-scale protest against Lukashenko, was released on Belarusian state television the following Monday night after being removed from Ryanair’s flight. It was screened.

Platasevic said he was sitting at the table with his hands folded forward, spoke quickly, was in good health, and was “maximally correct and in compliance with the law.” He added that he was giving evidence to researchers about organizing large-scale obstructions.

In their unusually swift action in Brussels, EU leaders also urged all EU-based airlines not to fly over Belarus and sanctioned officials involved in Sunday’s flight diversion. And urged the International Civil Aviation Organization to start investigating what they were doing. Considered an unprecedented move, what some have said is equivalent to state terrorism and piracy.

Leaders called on the Council to “ban Belarusian airlines from flying in EU airspace and take the necessary steps to prevent flights operated by such airlines from accessing EU airports.” In addition to demanding the release of Platasevic, they urged Minsk authorities to release his Russian girlfriend, Sophia Sapega, who was taken off the plane with him.

EU officials who are directly aware of the debate were immediately approved by leaders who decided to respond “strongly” to the case because of “aviation safety and serious danger to passengers by Belarusian authorities”. Said that. Those who are not allowed to speak publicly about private talk.

At least one European airline has already bypassed flights around Belarus. According to the website Flightradar24, British Airways flight 3599, which crossed Belarus on Saturday and Sunday, instead used Russian airspace to bypass the country.

Ryanair said a Belarusian flight controller had told the crew that there was a bomb threat to the plane as it was passing through Belarus’ airspace on Sunday and ordered it to land. The Belarusian MiG-29 fighter was scrambled by Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with iron fists for more than a quarter of a century, to escort the plane in a brave military show of force.

After that, Belarusian authorities arrested 26-year-old activist, journalist and prominent Lukashenko critic.. Platasevic and his Russian girlfriend were taken off the plane shortly after it landed, and authorities have not revealed where they were detained. Ryanair FR4978, which began in Athens, Greece, was finally allowed to continue to Vilnius, Lithuania.

“This is an attack on democracy,” said Ursula von der Leyen, Executive Chairman of the European Commission. “This is an attack on freedom of expression. And this is an attack on European sovereignty. And this ridiculous action requires a strong answer.”

Von der Leyen added that € 3 billion of EU investment and economic packages in Belarus will continue to be withheld until Belarus becomes “democratic.”

U.S. President Joe Biden said late Monday that he urged the team to work closely with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations to develop the appropriate options to hold the responsible person accountable. It was.

“This exorbitant case and the video that appears to have been coerced by Mr. Platasevic are shameful attacks on both political objections and press freedom. The United States has been unfairly detained by his release and the Lucashenka administration. We are joining countries around the world to seek the release of hundreds of political offenders, “said Biden’s statement.

White House spokesman Jen Psaki previously said that national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised the issue by calling the secretary of the Security Council of Russia.

Two US senators urged the Biden administration to ban US airlines from entering Belarusian airspace due to the incident. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat in Illinois, and Marco Rubio, a Republican in Florida, said in a joint statement, “We protect innocent passengers from monopoly and are targeted dissidents. Must be solidarity. “

EU leaders have put particular emphasis on arrests and condemning the move against planes operated by the Irish-based airline, which also flies between the two member states of the block. I did.

EU leaders have tried to bring Belarus closer to the block in order to encourage democratic reforms and reduce Russia’s influence, but so far it has failed.

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to “request airlines to evade Belarus’ airspace to keep passengers safe.” He added that he has suspended permission to allow Belavia to operate in the United Kingdom.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered authorities to cut the air route to Belarus and ban Ukraine from flying over neighboring airspace.

The U.S. and EU impose sanctions on Belarus’ top executives in months of protests after Lukashenko was reelected for the sixth term in an August 2020 vote rejected by opposition as fraudulent Did. Since then, more than 34,000 people have been arrested in Belarus and thousands have been beaten.

The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has complained about what is called a “warlike” EU statement, claiming that Minsk acted “fully in full compliance with international rules.”

After the Belarusian flag was replaced by the white and red flags used by the opposition at the World Ice Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia on Monday, all Latvian diplomats were ordered abroad. The event was moved from Minsk in an international protest over the crackdown.

Lufthansa said the 51-person flight from Minsk to Frankfurt was delayed on Monday following a “security warning.” Departure was allowed after the plane, passengers and cargo were searched.

On Sunday, the flight tracker site showed that Ryanair’s flights were about 10 km (6 miles) away from the Lithuanian border. There were contradictory reports of exactly what happened.

Belarusian transport ministry official Artem Sikorsky said Minsk Airport received an email from Palestinian militant group Hamas about the threat of a bomb.

However, Ryanair said in a statement that Belarus’ air traffic control had instructed the plane to detour to the capital. I searched the plane but couldn’t find the bomb. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary described the move as “a state-sponsored hijacking … a case of state-sponsored piracy.”

Passengers explained the shock of Platasevic when he noticed that the plane was heading for Minsk.

“He was surprised when the pilot said the plane was aimed at Minsk,” said passenger Marius Lutokauskas after the plane finally arrived in Vilnius.

Pratasevich was the co-founder of the Nexta channel of the Telegram messaging app and played a key role in helping organize the anti-Lukashenko protest. Nearly 2 million Belarusians of 9.3 million people follow the channel. Belarusian officials have named the channel “radical” and have charged Platasevic for instigating large-scale riots and inciting social hatred. He may face 15 years in prison.

In the midst of international anger, Moscow quickly reached out to its allies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he needed to investigate the episode, but couldn’t hurry. Moscow and Minsk have close political, economic and military ties, and Lukashenko has relied on Russia’s support in Western sanctions.

Associated Press writers rafCasert and Samuel Petrequin reported the story in Brussels, and Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Liudas Dapkus of Vilnius, Sylvia Hui and Jill Lawless of London, Lithuania, David Koenig of Dallas, Alexandra Jaffe of Washington, and Geir Moulson of Berlin contributed to this report.

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