G7 Calls for 'Immediate and Unconditional' Release of Belarus Journalist

Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

UN's Top Aviation Body To Meet Today Over Belarus Plane Diversion

Lithuania is working to confirm the identities of the passengers who disembarked from a diverted Ryanair plane after it was forced to land in Belarus, the chief of Lithuania's criminal police said on Friday.

Passengers on the abandoned flight have been assisted at Paris Charles de Gaulle, it said.

"Concerning Russia, there are some problems there".

But France is among countries taking a tough line over a Belarus warplane intercepting the Ryanair flight, including the suspension of Belarusian national carrier Belavia's operating rights.

At a special meeting on May 27, the 36 Council members, representing ICAO member states, asked member states and other stakeholders to cooperate in a fact-finding investigation into the incident to establish, "whether there had been any breach by an ICAO member state of global aviation law, including the convention on worldwide civil aviation [Chicago Convention] and its annexes". Minsk said it demanded the flight land in the Belarus capital based on the message it said was sent from a ProtonMail address by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Observers will watch the negotiations to see how far Russian Federation goes to support Lukashenko's regime after Belarus scrambled a Mig jet to divert a Ryanair jet and arrest an opposition journalist onboard last Sunday.

The criticism was nothing more than another attempt by his opponents to undermine his rule, he added.

"Our ill-wishers at home and overseas have changed their methods of attacking the state", Lukashenko said, accusing them of crossing "red lines" and "boundaries of common sense and human morality".

Lukashenko - often dubbed "Europe's last dictator" - is facing some of the strongest worldwide pressure of his 26-year rule of ex-Soviet Belarus.

As Europe continued its crackdown on Belarus on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed close ties with the country during his talks with Lukashenko.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday there was no reason to doubt statements made by the Belarusian leader. "It is simply clear what these Western friends want from us", he said, speaking of mass election protests in Belarus in 2020.

The Belarusian opposition has called for stronger measures.

Lukashenko claims that the flight was diverted because of a bomb threat, saying the threat had originated in Switzerland, allegations that Swiss authorities refute.

Belarus has released a transcript of communications between Minsk air traffic control and the Ryanair flight, in which the crew was told "you have (a) bomb on board" and urged to land in Minsk.

Meanwhile, economic sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises, reimposed by Washington in April following a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, will come into effect on June 3.

The statement says the officials "condemn in the strongest terms the unprecedented action by the Belarusian authorities".

Protasevich's mother told AFP in Poland that she had not slept since he was arrested.

For Natalia Protasevich, the past few days have been traumatic.

"They're going to kill him in there".

At a press conference in Warsaw, Dmitry Protasevich said his son has been denied access to independent lawyers and doctors.

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