European Union imposes sanctions on Belarus over 'hijacked' Ryanair flight

Belarus plane

Greek passenger Iasonas Zisis described the scene inside the aircraft when Belarus ordered it to change course. Video still You Tube

After weathering a wave of protests and Western sanctions a year ago, President Alexander Lukashenko faced extraordinary new pressure over Sunday's rerouting of the Ryanair flight to Minsk and arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on Tuesday that Lukashenko would pay "a bitter price" for the "heinous" flight diversion.

US President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to meet with Putin in June, said Washington was looking at "appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible".

Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Air France, LOT and Singapore Airlines were among carriers that stopped flying over Belarus along a major Europe-to-Asia corridor that generates hard currency payments to the Minsk government, $300 to $940 per flight.

She said: "I'm asking, I'm begging, I'm calling on the whole global community to save him".

Tikhanovskaya called for "comprehensive" global measures to force the regime to give up power.

Protasevich's mother, Natalya, in a phone interview with NEXTA said she was proud of him. The U.K., which is no longer part of the European Union, also recommended that carriers don't fly over Belarus, and British Airways flights were avoiding the country.

She is still in disbelief that Belarusian authorities would deploy a fighter jet to force the plane her son was on to land.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted Tuesday that the video "makes for deeply distressing viewing" and added, "Belarus' actions will have consequences".

The 26-year-old journalist and activist was arrested Sunday after Belarusian flight controllers told the crew of a Ryanair jetliner he was aboard that there was a bomb threat against the flight and ordered it to land.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday the European Union must "profoundly redefine" its relationship with Russian Federation and Belarus because "we are at the limits of sanctions policy", whilst German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that Lukashenko would pay "a bitter price" for the "heinous" flight diversion.

Belarus' isolation deepened Tuesday as commercial planes avoided its airspace, the European Union worked up new sanctions, and a senior United Nations official said he was concerned for the welfare of an opposition journalist arrested in Minsk after his plane was diverted there, apparently on the orders of the country's longtime strongman.

Belarusian state television late on Monday broadcast a 30-second video of Protasevich confirming that he was in prison in Minsk and "confessing" to charges of organising mass unrest. The spokesperson for the U.N.'s human rights office, Rupert Colville, said Pratasevich's appearance was likely not voluntary and that he seemed to have bruising to his face, though it was hard to tell from the footage.

The protests lasted for months with tens of thousands taking to the streets to denounce Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for over two decades.

Many protest leaders - including Tikhanovskaya who claimed victory in the August vote - fled the country, and the demonstrations have dwindled.

Holidaying with his girlfriend in Greece, where his Ryanair flight left from Sunday on its way to Lithuania, his father said Roman "could not have predicted such an outcome".

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