The diversion of a Ryanair flight en route to Lithuania by Belarus, leading to the arrest of a dissident journalist who was on board, has sparked worldwide outrage and calls for tough sanctions against the former Soviet-bloc nation.
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 already on a blacklist over a crackdown on opposition.
A supporter of Raman Pratasevich holding a placard reading "I am/we are Roman Protasevich" waits for the arrival of a Ryanair flight after it was diverted to Belarus, at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, May 23, 2021.
Neighbouring Ukraine has also said it would halt direct flights between the two countries and over Belarus.
In a video posted online, the detained blogger Roman Protasevich, 26, said he was in good health, being held in a pretrial detention facility in Minsk, and acknowledged having played a role in organising mass disturbances in the capital previous year.
In the video clip, Pratasevich, 26, said his treatment in custody was "maximally correct and according to law".
The video first appeared after independent media in Belarus suggested Protasevich was hospitalized suffering from a heart problem. Protasevich in the video denied he was suffering from any health problems. Both Greece and Lithuania are European Union member states.
Ryanair said in a statement that the flight crew of the diverted aircraft was notified by air traffic controllers in Belarus of "a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk".
On the ground, Belarusian agents took Protasevich away and detained Sepega.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a "hijacking", and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda described the incident as a "state-sponsored terror act".
The spiralling tensions around Belarus were in evidence as Minsk expelled the entire staff of Latvia's embassy, including the ambassador, after accusing Latvian authorities of having used an opposition flag at an ice hockey championship.
A senior official from Belarus' transport ministry on Monday sought to make the implausible claim the hoax bomb threat had been sent by the Palestinian militant group, Hamas. "I truly hope that the global community will wake up for him".
European leaders have dismissed the Belarusian explanations, in fact, before Monday's summit, Germany's leader, Angela Merkel, called them "totally implausible".
Pratasevich created a channel on the online messaging service Telegram and helped organize protests.
Protasevich has left NEXTA and now runs his own popular blog.
Belarusian authorities last year placed Protasevich on a terrorism watchlist and opened criminal cases against him on the mass disorder charges and also of inciting hatred, offenses that carry 15 and 12 year prison sentences.
Protsevich's father Dmitry on Monday told Radio Free Europe he feared his son might be tortured in Belarus.
"Leaders all agreed that Russian Federation is consistently challenging both our interests and our values by its actions in the past but also in the present", she said. Natalya Protasevich clarified that she received this information from "people in the medical community", but said she doesn't know if the reports are true. I really hope that the worldwide community will stand up.
"I feel very, very sorry about Roman".
Biden called Pratasevich's detainment by the Belarusian authorities is a "direct affront to worldwide norms". "A free press is essential to a functioning democracy, and the United States has called for his immediate release".