Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a Ryanair flight carrying a key opposition blogger and headed for Lithuania to land in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Sunday and detained him on arrival, officials and rights activists said.
Update Lithuania calls for joint EU action to keep planes out of Belarus airspace
Lithuania on Sunday called for European Union countries to jointly recommend that planes avoid Belarusian airspace, after a Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk and an opposition activist on board detained.
The proposal for a joint declaration will be put forward at a meeting of European leaders on Monday and will include a call to recognize the incident as a violation of International Civil Aviation Organisation rules, the foreign ministry said.
Lithuania has also asked its EU allies to summon Belarusian ambassadors and to protest against the use of military aircraft to divert planes.
“This is a brutal affront against all (the) EU,” Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a statement.
Malta’s Foreign Minister Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo said it is unacceptable, and unprecedented, to force a landing of a commercial flight between two European cities, and jeopardise the safety of passengers in such way. The safety of all passengers and crew must be ensured.
Update – NATO said the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk was a “serious and dangerous incident”, saying it required an international investigation.
“The Belarusian authorities must ensure the safe return of the crew and all passengers to Vilnius,” a spokesperson said.
“We are closely monitoring the forcible landing in Belarus of a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, and the reported detention of opposition figure Roman Protasevich,” the NATO spokesperson added.
UN agency says it is ‘strongly concerned’ by Ryanair incident
The United Nations’ aviation agency said on Sunday it was “strongly concerned” over the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair jetliner in Belarus.
The International Civil Aviation Organization said in a Twitter post that the incident may have contravened the Chicago Convention, a 1944 treaty designed to promote the peaceful use of civil aviation, which is managed through the Montreal agency.
Law enforcers detained activist Roman Protasevich, put on a wanted list after last year’s mass street protests following an election in which Lukashenko had claimed a landslide victory.
The aircraft, flying over Belarus from Athens to Vilnius, had almost reached Lithuania when it changed direction and was escorted to Minsk amid reports that it had explosives on board, according to an online flight tracker and BelTA.
Belarus’s forced landing of Lithuania-bound Ryanair plane sparks outrage
EU member Lithuania urged the European Union and NATO to respond, Germany called for an immediate explanation and Poland’s prime minister called it a “reprehensible act of state terrorism”.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said Belarus’s action was “utterly unacceptable”.
The aircraft, flying from Athens to Vilnius, had almost reached Lithuania when it changed direction and was escorted to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, after reports that it had explosives on board, according to an online flight tracker and BelTA state news agency.
Belarusian law enforcers took activist Roman Protasevich, 26 from the plane and detained him. He was placed on a wanted list after street protests last year following a presidential election in which Lukashenko was declared the winner but opponents complained of electoral fraud.
Lukashenko personally ordered a warplane to escort the Boeing to Minsk, BelTA reported. No explosives were found, it said.
Lithuania and traditional Russian ally Belarus are neighbours and former members of the Soviet Union. Lithuania is now a member of the European Union, Belarus is not.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called for an international response.
“I call on NATO and EU allies to immediately react to the threat posed to international civil aviation by the Belarus regime. The international community must take immediate steps that this does not repeat,” Nauseda said.
Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgiryte said the operation to force-land the plane carrying around 170 people from 12 countries seemed to be pre-planned.
She said Belarus intelligence services knew who was onboard the plane, which was forced to land with the help of MIG-29 fighter jet. Protasevich had lived in Vilnius since November, she said.
A Lithuanian airport authority spokeswoman told Reuters the plane, scheduled to land in Vilnius earlier on Sunday, was now expected to land later in the day.
Ryanair said the plane’s crew were notified by Belarus of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk.
The plane landed safely, passengers were offloaded and security checks were made by local authorities, it said.
The delay was regrettable and outside its control, it added.
Ryanair says nothing untoward found aboard plane diverted by Belarus
Ryanair said nothing untoward had been found after it was notified of a potential security threat on board one of its planes by Belarus air traffic control on Sunday and instructed to divert to the nearest airport in Minsk.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered the flight, which was headed for Lithuania and carrying a young opposition blogger, to land in Belarus on Sunday.
The blogger was detained on arrival, prompting Lithuania to call for a NATO response.
Security checks were completed by local authorities on the passengers, the Irish airline said in a statement. The flight was due to depart with passengers and crew at 1600 GMT, it added, apologising for the delay “which was outside Ryanair’s control”.
The Belarus department for organised crime control also reported that Protasevich had been detained but then deleted the statement from its Telegram channel.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown on the 2020 street protests. Around 35,000 people have been detained since August, human rights groups say. Dozens have received jail terms. Authorities say that more than 1,000 criminal cases have been launched.
Protasevich is one of the founders of the opposition news service NEXT, a Telegram channel that has become one of the main sources of news about demonstrations in Belarus. It is hostile to Lukashenko and helps to coordinate protests.
Belarus opposition leader calls for ICAO probe into diverted Ryanair plane
Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to investigate Belarus after it diverted a Ryanair plane, carrying an opposition activist, from Vilnius to the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
“From now on, any citizen of any country who flies over Belarus is not guaranteed even basic security,” she told reporters on Sunday in Vilnius, where she is based, calling for Belarus’s removal from the ICAO.
The life of a blogger activist Roman Protasevich, 26, who was on the plane and detained in Minsk, was now in danger, Tsikhanouskaya said.
Germany demands Belarus explain diversion of Ryanair flight
Germany on Sunday demanded that Belarus immediately explain why it ordered a Lithuania-bound Ryanair flight carrying a key opposition blogger to land in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Sunday and then detained him on arrival.
“We need an immediate explanation by the Government of #Belarus on the diversion of a Ryanair flight within the EU to Minsk and the alleged detention of a journalist,” Foreign Ministry State Secretary Miguel Berger tweeted.
EU calls for all on diverted Ryanair flight to be able to leave Belarus
The European Union said on Sunday that all passengers on board a Ryanair plane which was forced to land in Minsk by Belarus must be allowed to resume their journeys immediately.
“ALL passengers must be able to continue their travel to Vilnius immediately and their safety ensured,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.
“Any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences,” she added.
UPDATE – Ryanair flight has taken off from Minsk, on its way to Vilnius, EU Commissioner says
The Ryanair flight bound for Lithuania, but forced to land in Minsk, has taken off again and is on its way to Vilnius, EU transport Commissioner Adina Valean said on Sunday.
“The Ryanair flight took off just now from Minsk bound for Vilnius,” she said on Twitter, adding: “Great news for everyone especially the families and friends of people onboard.”