The European Union is urging member nations to close their airspace and airports to all Belarusian airlines after Belarus forced a commercial jetliner to make an emergency landing Sunday in Minsk and arrested an opposition blogger critical of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Conclusions on Belarus journalist Raman Pratasevich stands in an airport bus in the international airport outside Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021, in this photo released by telegram Chanel t.me/motolkohelp.Pratasevich, a former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, was detained by police when Belarusian authorities searched the plane. The Minsk government said Lukashenko ordered his military to scramble a MiG-29 fighter to escort the plane to the Minsk airport. In a video released on Belarusian state TV Monday, Pratasevich is seen “confessing” to charges of responsibility in civil disturbances. “I can say that I have no health problems. … I continue cooperating with investigators and am confessing to having organized mass unrest in the city of Minsk,” he said. But just before he and his girlfriend were led off a diverted plane by police, a trembling Pratasevich reportedly told a fellow passenger, “I’m facing the death penalty here.” Ryanair Flight FR4978, originating in Athens, was diverted in Belarusian airspace about 10 kilometers from Vilnius, Lithuania — its planned destination — because of an alleged bomb threat. Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
Security use a sniffer dog to check the luggage of passengers on the Ryanair plane, carrying opposition figure Raman Pratasevich, in Minsk International airport, May 23, 2021, in this photo provided by ONLINER.BY.The Minsk government has accused Pratasevich of terrorism and provoking riots after the Nexta channels became one of the main conduits for organizing last year’s anti-Lukashenko protests over election fraud. Lukashenko won his sixth term in the August election, claiming 80% of the votes, although many in the country accused him of rigging the vote. During the months of protests that followed, more than 34,000 people were arrested in Belarus, and thousands were brutally beaten. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. “strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich in Minsk. We demand his immediate release. “This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens,” Blinken said in his statement. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Sunday said it was “shocked” by the incident, saying the Lukashenko government “has increasingly strangled the press in Belarus for the past year, detaining, fining and expelling journalists, and sentencing them to longer and longer prison terms.” The CPJ called for Pratasevich’s immediate release.  Pratasevich had been in Athens covering a visit by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former Belarusian presidential candidate who has declared herself the country’s leader-in-exile because of the alleged widespread fraud during last year’s elections. She called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the Sunday incident and the diversion of the Ryanair jet.  She tweeted that Lukashenko’s “regime endangered the lives of passengers onboard the plane. From now — no one flying over Belarus — can be secure. International reaction needed!” 
 

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