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

Belarus leader defends diversion of flight carrying activist

The decision follows a furious reaction from the European Union after a Ryanair flight from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday so that authorities could arrest opposition journalist Roman Protasevich. He faced up to 15 years of jail on charges of organising mass unrest.

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

His father Dmitry Protasevich said that his son's lawyer was told that the journalist was not in his detention cell. They agreed to draft more sanctions on officials linked to the diversion and ones targeting businesses that are the main cash earners for Lukashenko's regime.

But she said she supported the EU's actions as "reasonable" and that Belarusians "cannot blame anyone for this except the regime".

But he played down the likelihood of the bloc agreeing quickly to reject gas transiting through pipelines in Belarus, insisting it was "more of a medium and long-term issue".

European Union leaders warned on Monday (24 May) they would adopt further "targeted economic sanctions" against the Belarusian authorities to add to the 88 regime figures and seven companies on a blacklist.

Later on Thursday he protested on the Belarusian border along with dozens of Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists.

Within hours of the Air France cancellation, Belavia flight 2869 to Barcelona was forced to turn around and return to Minsk after Poland said it would not be able to enter French airspace.

"A second attempt to coordinate the route with Marseille's Air Traffic Control was also unsuccessful, including flights on routes passing over neutral waters, which is contrary to the norms of the Chicago Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea", it said.

The airline has encountered no problems with other flights passing over Russian Federation after avoiding its ally Belarus, or with a Wednesday Paris-St Petersburg service that arrived on schedule.

The ICAO has no power to impose sanctions. AI pilots say the airline started "closely monitoring (the Belarus situation) from Tuesday" but is as of now not avoiding overflying that country's airspace.

The call at the United Nations for the ICAO investigation echoes an earlier one from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The UN Security Council is set to meet behind closed doors later on Wednesday.

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

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

Mr Lukashenko and his allies were already under European and U.S. sanctions over the violent crackdown on post-election protests that gripped the nation previous year.

Tikhanovskaya this week urged Europe and Washington to take stronger action against Lukashenko's regime, but he continues to enjoy solid support from Russian Federation.



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