EU Punishes Belarus By Asking EU-Based Airlines To Avoid Country’s Airspace : NPR

The protesters hold pictures of the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich and Protasevich partner Sofia Sapega during a demonstration by Belarusians and Poles living in Poland, who they support in front of the European Commission office in Warsaw on Monday. Wojtek Radwanski / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption

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Wojtek Radwanski / AFP via Getty Images

The protesters hold pictures of the Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich and Protasevich partner Sofia Sapega during a demonstration by Belarusians and Poles living in Poland, who they support in front of the European Commission office in Warsaw on Monday.

Wojtek Radwanski / AFP via Getty Images

The European Union calls on all airlines based in the block not to fly over Belarusian airspace. The move is a severe blow to the Belarusian regime a day after Belarusian officials forced the diversion of an international commercial flight to arrest 26-year-old opposition activist Roman Protasevich.

The decision was announced on Monday evening at a summit of EU heads of state and government in Brussels.

A Ryanair flight with an opposition journalist has to land in Belarus

International outrage followed the emergency landing On Sunday. Belarus ordered a Ryanair flight to make an emergency landing in the capital Minsk after reports that a bomb was on board the plane. Belarusian officials picked up a jet to intercept the flight, then got on the plane and arrested Protasevich, the former editor and founder of an opposition blog and social media channel Nexta.

“Ordinary citizens’ lives were in danger,” said Irish Minister for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne. told All in all from NPR. “That’s wrong, it’s illegal and frankly it could happen to any of us, so we can’t let this happen anywhere in the world.”

The EU also called on the European Council to start banning Belarusian airlines from flying over EU airspace or landing at their airports – a move that will effectively block the country’s flight connections to Western Europe. Belarus is not a member of the European Union.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the forced landing a “kidnapping”.

After the EU news, Dutch airline KLM and German airline Lufthansa said they would suspend flights over Belarus, Reuters reports.

Even before Protasevich left Athens Airport on the way to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, he told his colleagues that he had noticed a suspicious man who followed him and took photos before he and his partner Sofia Sapega boarded the flight.

When the plane abruptly changed course to make the unplanned landing in Minsk, fellow travelers remembered Protasevich and said he would be executed in Belarus.

A video of the opposition activist appeared on Belarusian pro-government social media in which Protasevich said he had incited mass disturbances. He said he had no health problems and was being treated well.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya tweeted that in the video Protasevich looks like he is “under physical and moral pressure”.

Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of Belarus, is in his sixth term after declaring himself the election winner in August. Protasevich was born in 1995, a year after Lukashenko came to power.

Protasevich became a political activist as a teenager and left Belarus in 2019. When massive protests against the government Erupted last year after the election, its Telegram channel has become an essential resource for opposition activists to coordinate and plan their actions.

With Russian support, Lukashenko stayed in power. Neither the European Union nor the USA recognize Lukashenko as legitimate and impose sanctions on his inner circle.

“Lukashenko is now really waging a war against any opposition, be it inside or outside the country,” he says Katia Glod, Fellow of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, DC

She says Protasevich’s arrest was motivated by both personal vengeance and an attempt to silence any media critical of the government: “They pose a very direct threat to the regime because they mobilize the population and then inform the people of Belarus . “

NPR correspondent Rob Schmitz contributed to this report from Europe.

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