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Tuesday July 23, 2024

Air links cut over diverted plane: Belarus isolation grows

By AFP
May 26, 2021

Minsk: Belarus’s regime was increasingly isolated Tuesday as Europe cut air links and calls grew for stronger action over its diversion of an airliner and arrest of a dissident on board.

After weathering a wave of protests and Western sanctions last year, President Alexander Lukashenko faced extraordinary new pressure over Sunday’s rerouting of the Ryanair flight to Minsk and arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

More Western leaders joined calls demanding Protasevich’s release, after the European Union agreed at a summit on Monday to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc and called on EU-based carriers not to fly over its airspace. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Tuesday that Lukashenko would pay "a bitter price" for the "heinous" flight diversion.

"Any dictator toying with such ideas must be made to understood that they will pay a bitter price," he told reporters. French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU needed to "profoundly redefine" its relationship with Russia and Belarus because "we are at the limits of sanctions policy".

Air France, Finnair and Singapore Airlines became the latest carriers to suspend flights over Belarus, following Scandinavian airline SAS, Germany’s Lufthansa and Latvia-based regional airline airBaltic.

Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said the international community needed to go further, urging the United States to take action in a call with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Tikhanovskaya called for "comprehensive" international measures to force the regime to give up power. "This is the time to act," she said. "Suspension of flights over Belarus doesn’t solve the real problem. The problem is the terrorist regime that rigged elections last year."

She asked for the Belarusian opposition to be invited to next month’s G7 summit in Britain, an initiative that sources close to the French president said Paris supported. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined calls for Protasevich to be released, warning: "Belarus’s actions will have consequences."

The UN rights office also demanded the immediate release of Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who was also arrested after the Athens-to-Vilnius flight landed in Minsk.