Belarus ‘hijacks’ Ryanair flight to arrest opposition activist | DW News

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    Punitive measures against Belarus might be imminent, after authorities in Minsk forced a Ryanair plane to land and arrested a passenger on board.

    In a tweet, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “The outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences.” She continued: “Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned.”

    The exiled Belarusian activist and blogger Roman Protasevich was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when the airplane was diverted to Belarus in a false security alert. EU leaders will convene today to discuss the matter.

    Ryanair flight FR4978 arrived at Vilnius airport in Lithuania after being diverted and held for hours in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

    The normally three-hour flight from Athens to Vilnius had almost reached its destination when Belarusian authorities diverted the plane. They cited a bomb threat and escorted it with a military plane to the airport in Minsk.

    The authorities didn’t find any explosives. But they did arrest a passenger: Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian activist and blogger living in exile.

    Passengers said they saw Belarusian police confiscating the activist’s passport.

    For months, Belarusians have been protesting against Authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. The outrage was sparked in August when he won a sixth term in office in a presidential vote the opposition said was rigged. The government cracked down and arrested thousands. By then, Protasevich already lived in Poland.

    He is a co-founder of NEXTA, a channel on the Telegram messaging app, which was used to help organize the protests and published video from them.

    International leaders are calling the episode a hijacking – and demand the release of Roman Protasevich. EU leaders are set to discuss their response on Monday.

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