Published: Sat, May 29, 2021
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ICAO takes up investigation of Ryanair FR4978 forced diversion in Belarus

ICAO takes up investigation of Ryanair FR4978 forced diversion in Belarus

Putin warmly greeted Lukashenko in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, saying he was "very glad" to see him and the two should go for a swim.

In a show of support for Lukashenko, Russia has been refusing permission for some European passenger jets to enter its airspace after airlines, following EU guidance, ordered their planes to alter their usual flight paths and bypass Belarus, depriving the Belarusian government of millions of dollars in flyover fees.

"An attempt is underway to rock the boat to reach the level of last August", Lukashenko told Putin.

Belarus has released a transcript of communications between Minsk air traffic control and the Ryanair flight, in which the crew was told "you have a bomb on board" and urged to land in Minsk.

"The aviation authorities work hard these days and the situation is extraordinary", the Kremlin said", adding,"But if they have arisen because of the European Union decisions and companies that have listened to Brussels' recommendations, then technical hiccups are inevitable.

Lithuanian police chief Rolandas Kiskis told reporters:"We are working to confirm the identities, whether the persons who were named in unofficial sources are matched by personal identification data".

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there was no reason to doubt Lukashenko's version of events.

Russia's federal aviation agency Rosaviatsiya has told airlines that changes to routes from Europe to Russian Federation due to the political row over Belarus may result in longer clearance times due to more such requests.

The Athens-to-Vilnius flight was diverted over a supposed bomb scare, with Lukashenko scrambling a MiG-29 fighter jet to accompany the aircraft.

"We can see the sent time and can confirm it was after the plane was redirected", it said on Twitter.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council will meet as the consequences of the incident play out in Europe's airspace.

Once the plane landed, Protasevich - the 26-year-old co-founder of opposition Telegram channel Nexta that coordinated protests last year against Lukashenko - and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

Both Protasevich and Sapega have since appeared in confession videos that their supporters said were recorded under duress and are a common tactic of the regime to pressure critics.

Many protest leaders - including now-exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who claimed victory in the August vote - fled the country, and the demonstrations have dwindled.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that proposals were "on the table" to target key sectors of the Belarusian economy.

The Belarusian opposition has called for further global action against the regime.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has publicly advocated moderation, fearing deep and wide sanctions risk harming ordinary Belarusians without deterring Lukashenko.

Lukashenko has retained his grip on power in ex-Soviet Belarus since 1994 by hounding opponents, jailing and allegedly torturing dissidents, and muzzling independent media.

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