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Belarusian opposition calling for closure of Airspace following Ryanair incident

Minsk: Pavel Latushko, a member of the Belarusian opposition coordination council, is calling for the closure of the Belarusian airspace for the duration of an investigation into the Ryanair plane emergency landing in Minsk.

“We are holding consultations with the Foreign Ministries of the European Union countries, as well as with the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO, the European organization of international air carriers IATA [International Air Transport Association]. We believe it is important to stop international air traffic over the territory of Belarus for the duration of the investigation, to temporarily ban the possibility of overflight of Belarusian government and military aircraft over the territory of European countries,” Latushko said on Telegram.

He also called for the broadening of international sanctions against Minsk, something that the Belarusian opposition has been calling for since incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko secured his sixth term in office in the August 2020 election.

On Sunday, the press service of the Minsk National Airport told Sputnik that a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Vilnius had to make an emergency landing in Minsk over a bomb threat, which later turned out to be fake. A fighter jet was deployed to escort the plane. It was reported later that Roman Protasevich — founder of a Telegram channel that Minsk designated as extremist – was detained during the stopover at the airport. He may face up to 15 years in prison.

The plane was cleared for take off from Minsk on Sunday evening and arrived in Vilnius at 18:27 GMT. The Minsk airport insisted that the decision to land in Belarus was made by the Ryanair captain and in accordance with international law.

Multiple countries have since stepped up to condemn Minsk’s actions and call for a probe into the incident. Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Twitter on Sunday that the Belarusian airspace must be closed for all international flights after the Ryanair incident.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has called for sanctions against those who are found responsible for the Ryanair plane emergency landing in Minsk and reiterated the EU position regarding the immediate release of Roman Protasevich.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Twitter on Sunday that flights of Belavia Belarusian Airlines, the flag carrier and national airline of Belarus, should be banned in Europe over the Ryanair plane incident.

“The forced landing of Ryanair flight #FR4978 by Belarus is unacceptable. Tomorrow’s European Council must give a clear & unequivocal message. Roman Protasevich must be immediately released. We have to consider sanctions, including banning Belavia from landing in EU airports,” De Croo tweeted.

Meanwhile, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and his counterparts in the Czech Republic, Latvia, Germany, Lithuania, Ireland, Poland, and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on Sunday calling for a ban on all overflight of Belarus.

The head of the European Council, Charles Michel, agreed to discuss the consequences of the Ryanair plane incident and possible sanctions against Belarus at the upcoming EU summit on Monday, Michel’s official spokesman Barend Leyts announced on Sunday.

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