Belarus opposition figure detained after flight divertion

Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich arrives for a court hearing in Minsk

Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich arrives for a court hearing in Minsk

The foreign ministries of Greece and Lithuania said there were 171 passengers from at least 18 countries.

"He just turned to people and said he was facing the death penalty", Monika Simkiene, a 40-year-old Lithuanian, said in Vilnius after landing - without Protasevich - several hours later.

Protasevich and Nexta founder Stepan Putilo, 22, were added to Belarus's list of "individuals involved in terrorist activity" past year.

According to New York Times, the Belarus native has been living in Lithuania for the past few years in exile for his fear over a prison sentence of up to 15 years in his home country. He said that the European Council would discuss the case Monday and that he would propose banning Belarusian planes from European Union airports and "serious sanctions" against Lukashenko's government.

The International Civil Aviation Organization said the incident may have contravened the Chicago Convention, a 1944 treaty that set rules for the burgeoning industry anticipated after World War Two and which underpins civil aviation today.

A false bomb alert has diverted a commercial Ryanair flight in Europe to Belarus in an "unprecedented" and "utterly unacceptable" move to arrest an opposition-aligned journalist.

"Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety".

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya speaks during her news conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sunday, May 23, 2021.

Lithuania and Latvia have called for worldwide flights not to use Belarusian airspace.

The Ryanair flight was shown as having landed on an arrivals screen at Vilnius airport.

Deputy air force commander Andrei Gurtsevich said the plane's crew made the decision to land in Minsk, but Ryanair said in a statement that Belarusian air traffic control instructed the plane to divert to the capital.

The charges under investigation include hijacking of a plane for terrorism purposes and treatment of humans in violation of global treaties, it said in the statement.

The press service of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the president himself ordered that a MiG-29 fighter jet accompany the airliner after he was informed of the bomb threat.

"I looked directly into his eyes and he was very sad", she said.

"This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including USA citizens", he said in a statement, using an alternative spelling of the Belarusian leader's name.

The ICAO later said it "is strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing".

The worldwide community has condemned the crackdown.

The forced landing came before a two-day meeting in Brussels of European Union leaders, who will discuss consequences and possible sanctions, European Union spokesman Barend Leyts said. "Consequences and possible sanctions will be discussed at this occasion".

Some governments have described the incident as a state-sanctioned hijacking.

"We are closely monitoring the forcible landing in Belarus of a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, and the reported detention of opposition figure Roman Protasevich", NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg tweeted. "This is a serious and risky incident, which requires global investigation". "This is a reprehensible act of state terrorism", he said.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki denounced Belarus's actions as "an act of state terrorism", while French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a "strong and united response" from the EU. "We demand his immediate release", Blinken said in a statement. "Now his life is in danger", Tikhanovskaya said.

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