Belarus president forced Ryanair flight to land Minsk, just to arrested journalist

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A Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land earlier on Sunday after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a fighter jet to escort the plane to Minsk in order to arrest an opposition journalist.

President Alexander Lukashenko.
President Alexander Lukashenko. Photo by Maxim Guchek/Belta/EPA

Belarus journalist and opposition activist Roman Pratasevich on board the Ryanair flight was arrested right after the plane landed in Minsk.

According to Lithuanian state broadcaster LRT, the Ryanair flight from Athens with 171 passengers was to arrive in Vilnius at 13:00 on Sunday but was forced to turn back before crossing the Lithuanian border and land in the Belarusian capital. Minsk Airport told reporters that it had received a report about a bomb on board.

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Reacting to the incident, NATO said it was “closely monitoring” the situation. “This is a serious and dangerous incident, which requires international investigation,” NATO Secretary-General said.

Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is currently in exile in Vilnius, in a tweet, said that the flight was grounded in order to arrest Belarusian opposition activist and blogger Roman Pratasevich, the founder of the Nexta information channel on Telegram social network.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called the report about the flight “disconcerting”.

“Disconcerting news about the forced landing of an international flight from Athens to Vilnius in Minsk. We are working with international partners to ensure the safe return of passengers to Vilnius,” he posted on Facebook.

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Also, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said on Sunday that Pratasevich had asylum in Lithuania, demanding that he be immediately released. He said he is “calling on our NATO and EU allies to react to the threat that the Belarusian regime poses to international civil aviation.”

He stressed that he will raise the issue at the EU Council on Monday in Brussels.

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