Belarusian opposition calls for global protests over journalists detention

Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

Many countries have denounced the move.

Roman's father, Dmitry on Thursday said his son was "a tough man" and "a hero".

European Union leaders on Monday warned they would adopt further "targeted economic sanctions" against the Belarusian authorities to add to the 88 regime figures and seven companies on a blacklist.

At a briefing in Vilnius, where she fled to after last year's election, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya today called for an "economic boycott of the regime".

A Belarusian dog handler checks luggages off a Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS (flight number FR4978) parked on Minsk International Airport's apron in Minsk, on 23 May 2021.

Christophe Deloire, the head of media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, was also in Lithuania to file a legal complaint against Lukashenko with prosecutors investigating Sunday's incident.

All involved countries should take part in the investigation, namely Ireland, where Ryanair is headquartered, Greece, and Lithuania, as respectively the country of origin and destination of the flight, Poland where the aircraft is registered, and obviously, Belarus, whose own report was already transmitted to the ICAO.

Following an emergency meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations aviation agency, representatives from the 36 nations composing the Council made a decision to launch an investigation into the alleged forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 by the Belarus regime.

The French carrier, part of Air France-KLM, scrapped flight AF1154 "for operational reasons linked to the bypassing of Belarusian airspace, requiring a new authorisation from the Russian authorities to enter their territory", a spokesperson said.

But a defiant President Alexander Lukashenko said he had "acted lawfully to protect our people", in an address to parliament on Wednesday.

The ICAO has no power to impose sanctions.

Council will meet as the consequences of the incident play out in Europe's airspace, with a Barcelona-bound flight from Minsk refused access to French airspace, and Poland banning Belarusian carriers on Wednesday.

European leaders, who accuse the authorities in Minsk of effectively hijacking the passenger flight, this week agreed to cut air links with Belarus and told airliners to avoid the country's airspace.

The call at the United Nations for the ICAO investigation echoes an earlier one from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Lukashenko - often dubbed "Europe's last dictator" - is facing some of the strongest global pressure of his almost 27 years ruling ex-Soviet Belarus.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, claimed a sixth presidential term in last August's vote that the opposition and Western diplomats said was rigged.

The EU has already slapped asset freezes and visa bans on Lukashenko and 87 other regime figures, but the strongman has shrugged off Western pressure with support from key ally Russian Federation.



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