EU, US mull response after Belarus diverts flight, arrests journalist

International Desk, May 24 (EFE).- The international community has reacted with indignation over the Belarusian president’s decision to force a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk in order to arrest a prominent opposition journalist.

Roman Protasevich, a blogger who documented long-serving president Alexander Lukashenko’s tough crackdown on opposition protests that erupted in the eastern European country last year, was detained by Belarusian police after the plane was ordered to land.

A close associate of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Protasevich is wanted on terrorism charges that could carry the death penalty, social media users said.

The United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “We strongly condemn the Lukashenka regime’s brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight and arrest a journalist.”

“We demand an international investigation and are coordinating with our partners on next steps. The United States stands with the people of Belarus.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as a “hijacking” and said EU members would discuss “action to be taken” during a Council meeting underway over the next two days.

Ryanair said that crew aboard the Athens-Vilnius flight were notified of a security threat and asked to land in Minsk by Belarusian air traffic control.

Ruler of the former Soviet nation since 1994, Lukashenko claimed victory in presidential elections in August 2020, polls that opposition activists said were fraudulent.

The elections sparked the largest demonstrations in the country’s history and many prominent Lukashenko critics went into exile in neighboring Lithuania.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that still uses the death penalty.EFE

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