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European leaders condemned Belarus' diversion of Ryanair flight

European leaders accused Belarus of "hijacking" a Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania, after forcing the plane to land in Minsk over a supposed bomb threat, reports the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Among the flight's passengers was Roman Protasevich, a journalist and opposition leader wanted by the the Belarusian government, who was detained at the Minsk airport once the plane landed, the Post reported.

  • Protasevich co-founded the Telegram channel Nexta, which helped organize the mass anti-government demonstrations last year, per the AP.
  • He has been living in exile in Lithuania for several years out of fear of being arrested in Belarus, where he faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted on charges of "inciting hatred and mass disorder," per the New York Times.

The state of play: The plane was flying over Belarus and was six miles from the Lithuanian border when Belarusian air traffic control told the pilots to divert to Minsk due to "a potential security risk on board," per the the Post.

  • The presidential press service said that President Alexander Lukashenko "personally ordered" a fighter jet to escort the flight down to the Minsk airport, the AP reported.
  • Officials later confirmed no explosives were found on the airplane, per AP.

The big picture: European leaders have widely condemned the move by Belarus.

  • "I condemn in the strongest terms the detention of Roman Protasevich by Belarusian authorities, after a Ryanair passenger aircraft was hijacked. This is a reprehensible act of state terrorism," tweeted Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, adding that he has asked the European Council to discuss possible sanctions during their Monday.
  • "Any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences," said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU commission.
  • “The regime forced the landing [of the] Ryanair plane in Minsk to arrest journalist and activist Roman Protasevich,” exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a statement, while calling on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the episode, per the Post.
  • British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted that the U.K. was "alarmed" by the arrest of Protasevich and warned that "this outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications."

Of note: The Ryanair flight continued on its way after the diversion to Minsk and landed in Lithuania later Sunday, reports Bloomberg.

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