Health Care

Cypriot national on hijacked plane is well, in Vilnius

Cypriot national on hijacked plane is well, in Vilnius”

Mr Raab said: "The UK condemns yesterday's actions by the Belarusian authorities, who arrested journalist Roman Protasevich on the basis of a ruse, having forced his flight to land in Minsk".

Belarusian authorities claimed they had responded to a request for help from the flight about a bomb threat onboard.

Protasevich, 26, is a Belarusian journalist and activist.

A Ryanair flight flying over Belarus airspace en route to Lithuania was allegedly forced to land in Minsk.

In an unverified report, he remarked: "I'll get the death penalty here".

The flight had been about to cross into Lithuania, just minutes from its destination in Vilnius.

A spokeswoman for the Lithuanian prime minister said the latest information available from Ryanair suggested 126 passengers had departed the Greek capital and 121 were present on arrival in Lithuania. As it approached the border between Belarus and Lithuania, a MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to intercept it.

"The regime has turned our country into North Korea in the middle of Europe", she said. About a hundred Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, are already under European sanctions for human rights violations in this former Soviet republic.

The diversion of the plane was roundly condemned in Europe, with European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen describing it as "outrageous and illegal", Poland denouncing it as "an act of state terrorism" and France calling for a "strong and united response".

"We call on Belarusian authorities to immediately release Raman Pratasevich and for European leaders to respond forcefully to this violation of global norms". "It is a reminder of the illegitimacy of the regime claiming authority in Minsk", read a joint statement signed by representatives from several European Union countries, the United Kingdom and the United States, who called for an inquiry by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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Lithuania's president Gitanas Nausėda described the situation as "unprecedented" and "abhorrent", and called for a response from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union.

With the Russian government having recently struck unusually positive notes towards the West ahead of a possible high-stakes summit with US President Biden planned for the summer, Lukashenko's action may have come as an unwelcome surprise and reinforce doubts about a Belarusian leader long seen in Moscow as erratic.

Mr Protasevich now faces charges which could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years. He denies electoral fraud.

The plane landed safely, passengers were offloaded and security checks were made by local authorities, it said, saying it expected the aircraft to resume its journey later on Sunday.

(Belga) France proposed, on Monday, to impose a "no-fly zone" on Belarus after that country hijacked a passenger plane carrying a Belarusian opponent upon its arrival in Minsk.

The EU and the United States imposed several rounds of financial sanctions against Minsk a year ago, which had no effect on the behaviour of Lukashenko, who withstood mass demonstrations against his rule after a disputed election.

The journalist, who now works for a different Telegram channel called Belamova and who describes himself on Twitter ironically as the first "journalist-terrorist" in history, is based in Lithuania.

Belarus' authorities placed Protasevich on a terrorism watchlist last year and have opened criminal cases against him on charges of organizing mass riots and inciting hatred, offenses that carry sentences of up to 12 to 15 years in prison.

Belarusian news agency BelTA reported Mr Lukashenko had personally ordered the warplane to escort the Ryanair plane to Minsk.

Officials later said that no explosives were found on board.

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