Belarus: Flightpath of Ryanair plane redirected to Minsk
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When the plane landed in Belarus, journalist Roman Pratasevich, who was travelling on the flight from Athens to Vilnius, was arrested.
However it has been reported the bomb threat may have been an attempt to force the plane to land so Mr Protasevich could be detained.
The 26-year-old journalist is reported to be an enemy of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Defence Ministry in Belarus has confirmed Mr Protasevich, who had been living in exile, had been arrested.
Human rights centre Vesna also said: ”Roman Protasevich was detained. He was on the Ryanair flight Athens-Vilnius.”
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is leader of the opposition in Belarus whom was widely seen as having won last year’s presidential election before being forced into exile, lashed out.
She said: “It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain the activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.
Ryanair bomb alert: The flight had to make an emergency landing (Image: GETTY)
“The regime endangered the safety of passengers on board and all civil aviation for the sake of reprisals against a man who was the editor of the largest Belarusian independent Telegram channels.”
The opposition leader also warned: “From now on, not a single person flying over Belarus can be sure of their safety.
“After all, the regime is abusing the rules of air traffic in order to capture those who disagree.”
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda raged on Twitter: “Unprecedented event! A civilian passenger plane flying to Vilnius was forcibly landed in #Minsk.
Ryanair bomb alert: Emergency services were scrambled when the plane landed (Image: GETTY)
“Belarusian political activist & founder of @NEXTA_EN was on the plane. He is arrested.
“Belarus regime is behind the abhorrent action. I demand to free Roman Protasevič urgently!”
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonyte also tweeted: “Passengers and crew of Ryanair flight en route from Athens to Vilnius have been put in danger – when forcibly landed in Minsk.
“We demand that the plane and passengers be allowed to fly to Vilnius immediately!”
Ryanair bomb alert: Lithuania’s President demanded Roman Protasevic be released ‘immediately’ (Image: @GitanasNausėda / Twitter)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned there will be “consequences” after the Ryanair plane was forced into an emergency landing.
She tweeted: “It is utterly unacceptable to force @Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk.
“ALL passengers must be able to continue their travel to Vilnius immediately and their safety ensured.
“Any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences.”
European Council President Charles Michel also tweeted: “Very concerned regarding reports of a forced landing of #Ryanair flight in Minsk.
“We call on Belarus authorities to immediately release the flight and all its passengers.
Ryanair bomb alert: Ursula von der Leyen is furiousd the Ryanair plane was forced into an emergency landing (Image: @vonderleyen / Twitter)
“An #ICAO investigation of the incident will be essential.”
Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said the Belarus Government “must face serious consequences”.
She tweeted: “Intercepting a civilian airliner to detain a journalist is appalling, dangerous, and illegal.
“It imperils the freedoms of the air and freedom of speech.
“The Belarus government must face serious consequences.”
Ryanair bomb alert: Charles Michel is ‘very concerned’ over reports of the Ryanair flight being forced to land (Image: @eucopresident / Twitter)
Journalist Mr Protasevich had said a middle-aged Russian-speaking man had tried to film the main page of his passport at Athens airport before turning away and leaving.
Belarusian opposition Telegram channel Nexta was linked closely to reporting a surge in protest last year that almost toppled Mr Lukashenko, before Russian President Vladimir Putin threw his support behind him.
NEXTA reported: “Protasevich was on board a flight heading from Athens to Vilnius. He faces the death penalty in Belarus.
“The Lukashists [derogatory term for supporters of embattled President Lukashenko] seized the plane in order to arrest Protasevich.
The authorities in Belarus said its bomb disposal unit examined the Ryanair plan but it was later reported no explosives were found.