Belarus faces new sanctions from West over forced landing of plane, arrest of journalist 

WION Web Team
Brussels/Kyiv Published: May 25, 2021, 08:41 AM(IST)

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

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 last year

Western powers prepared to pile sanctions on Belarus and cut off its aviation links on Monday, furious after it scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair aircraft and arrest a dissident journalist, an act one official denounced as 'state piracy'. 

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 last year. 

In the video on the Telegram messaging app, he wore a dark sweatshirt and clasped his hands tightly in front of him. The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies, including his father, as having been made under duress. 

A Polish deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jablonski, told private broadcaster TVN24 that his government had heard from Protasevich's mother about his being in poor health, but provided no details. 

Belarus' interior ministry said Protasevich was being held in jail and had not complained of ill health. 

US President Joe Biden on Monday condemned Belarus for its actions and said he had asked his advisers to give him options to hold those responsible to account. 

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in a call on Monday with exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said the United States had "strong support for the demands of the Belarusian people for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms," the White House said. 

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels called for Belarusian airlines to be banned from the 27-nation bloc's airspace and urged EU-based carriers to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic, according to a joint statement. 

They also agreed to widen the list of Belarusian individuals they already sanction and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to urgently investigate Belarus forcing a Ryanair plane to land in Minsk on a Greece-Lithuania flight on Sunday. 

"The reaction should be swift and be severe," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of the EU summit. 

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other EU countries, said: "This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored." 

The EU and other Western countries also called for the release of Protasevich, who was detained when the plane landed. 

His social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent last year. Sofia Sapega, a 23-year-old student travelling with him, was also detained. 

(With inputs from agencies) 

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