Belarus ‘diverts Ryanair flight to arrest journalist’, opposition says

Belarus 'diverts Ryanair flight to arrest journalist', opposition says
Supporters of Roman Protasevich wait for his arrival at Vilnius airport. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: On Sunday, a Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus for several hours. Activists said it was done to arrest a dissident journalist on board.

European nations reacted with outrage about the incident, accusing Belarus of “state terrorism”.

Roman Protasevich, the ex-editor of the Nexta group, was detained before the plane was allowed to resume its flight.

Belarus media said a MiG-29 escorted the Ryanair jet to Minsk because of a bomb scare but no explosives were found.

The passenger plane finally landed in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius at 21:25 local time, more than seven hours after its scheduled arrival.

Arriving passengers said they had been given no information about the reason for the stopover to Minsk. One passenger said Mr Protasevich looked “super scared. I looked directly to his eyes and it was very sad”.

Another passenger, Monika Simkiene, told AFP news agency: “He just turned to people and said he was facing the death penalty.”

There have already been calls for the Nato and EU to intervene.

Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary, warned the “outlandish action” would have “serious implications”.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was among those demanding Mr Protasevich’s release. Tikhanovskaya was beaten by Alexander Lukashenko in presidential polls last year widely denounced as rigged.

Since August’s election, Mr Lukashenko, 66, who has ruled the country since 1994, has cracked down on dissenting voices. Many opposition figures have been arrested or, like Ms Tikhanovskaya, fled into exile.

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