"You Have Bomb On Board", Belarus Told Pilot Of Diverted Ryanair Plane
May 26 2021
After weathering a wave of protests and Western sanctions past year, Lukashenko is facing renewed pressure over the incident, with Western leaders demanding Protasevich's release, and the European Union cutting air links with the increasingly isolated nation.
The worldwide outcry has continued to grow over Sunday's incident, in which Belarus is accused of having used a false bomb threat to divert the airliner to its capital, Minsk, in order to arrest Roman Protasevich, a blogger who played a key role in last years' mass protests against Lukashenko.
After his detention, Raman Pratasevich was seen in a brief video clip shown on Belarusian state television late Monday, speaking rapidly to say that he was confessing to some of the charges authorities have leveled against him.
With dark markings visible on his forehead, he said he was being treated "according to the law".
VIDEOTAPED "CONFESSION" Lukashenko, whose security services crushed months of pro-democracy demonstrations previous year after an election opponents said was rigged, has so far shrugged off Western sanctions, which mostly consist of blacklists barring various officials from travelling or doing business in the United States and EU. He added that following Pratasevich's arrest, they have received a flow of new threats "that we are the next, that we will not be even taken to Belarus but will be executed right away, that our office will be blown up and we have to be afraid".
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other European Union countries, said: "This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored". "The United States joins countries around the world in calling for his release, as well as for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners who are being unjustly detained by the Lukashenka regime".
His social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent past year. "He was taken hostage", she told a news conference in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
With close to two million subscribers on the service, Nexta Live and its sister channel Nexta are prominent opposition channels and helped mobilise protesters in Belarus. "The problem is the terrorist regime that rigged elections a year ago".
Some airlines and countries did not wait for guidance on how to respond to the diversion of the Ryanair flight.
Air France, Finnair and Singapore Airlines on Tuesday became the latest carriers to suspend flights over Belarus, following Scandinavian airline SAS, Germany's Lufthansa and Latvia-based regional airline Air Baltic.
Still, the options for Western retaliation appear limited. The flight had originated from Greece, but was forced to land in Minsk.
Belarus lies on the flight path of routes within Europe and between Europe and Asia, and skirting Belarus would slow flights down and cost airlines money.
Lukashenko denies election fraud.
"I just want to say that my son is simply a hero, simply a hero", Natalia Protasevich said, weeping. I really hope that the global community will stand up.
Belarus said its ground controllers had given guidance to the flight but had not ordered it to land.
The video of Protasevich's alleged confession was distributed in multiple channels on the social media and messaging site Telegram that are allied with Belarus's strongman president, Alexander Lukashenko.
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said the incident was a "state-sponsored hijacking" and claimed agents from Russia's KGB were on board the flight.
Mr Raab said that although the situation was not yet clear, the relationship between Minsk and Moscow suggested Russian leaders may have been aware of the plans in advance.
Tikhanovskaya, who has since fled to Lithuania, said Tuesday that there was "no doubt" that Protasevich had been tortured and was "under pressure" when the video was filmed.
Some say more sanctions will do little to alleviate the situation and will only push Belarus closer to its main sponsor and ally, Russia, and reduce the influence of the European Union and others.
The 30-nation military organization's ambassadors are meeting later Tuesday and will discuss the episode.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab raised the possibility of that Russian Federation had backed the operation.
But Russia has dismissed the outrage in the West. They backed banning Belarusian airlines from flying over EU territory and called on European airlines to avoid flying over Belarus.