Moscow, May 26 (EFE).- Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday defended an incident in which a passenger airplane was grounded and Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, who was traveling on board, was arrested.
In his first public remarks since the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Sunday, Lukashenko told members of parliament that he had acted “in accordance with the law” and accused the West of waging a “cold war” against his country.
“We are on the front line of a new war,” Lukashenko said, according to the official Belarusian agency Belta.
The president said a “hybrid war of various levels” had been unleashed by Western countries against Belarus that aimed to “demonize” the country.
“We are a small country, but we will respond appropriately. There are similar examples in the world. And before making unthinking moves you should remember that Belarus is the center of Europe, and if something breaks out here, it will be a new world war,” he warned.
Protasevich, who was a key organiser of mass protests against Lukashenko last year, said on Monday in a video broadcast on Belarusian state TV that he was “cooperating with the investigation” and admitted his “culpability” for having organized rallies in Minsk – the largest in the country’s history – following the August 2020 presidential election, which the Belarusian opposition says were fraudulent.
Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus since 1994, claimed victory in the election and the state swiftly clamped down on the mass demonstrations, forcing many critics, including Protasevich, to go into exile.
The European Union and the United States have demanded his immediate release.
The EU on Tuesday announced sanctions against those they believed to be involved in the plane diversion, which it branded an “international scandal.”
Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanosvkaya on Wednesday said the international community’s response to Lukashenko had been “fair, firm and effective”.
“Belarus is currently a threat to the international community and organizations,” she said during a video conference with the European Parliament.
The opposition leader also accused Lukashenko of turning Belarus into “the European North Korea, into an unpredictable and dangerous country.” EFE