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“State hijack”: Ryanair plane Athens-Vilnius forced to land in Minsk, journalist arrested

A Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to Minsk and forced to land in Belarus earlier on Sunday. Belarus journalist and opposition activist Roman Pratasevich on board of the Rayanair flight was arrested right after the plane landed in Minsk. This “state hijacking” set the lives of dozens civilians at risk and threatens to trigger a diplomatic incident between Lithuania and Belarus as well as with the NATO and the European Union.

According to Lithuanian state broadcaster LRT, the Ryanair flight from Athens with 120 passengers was to arrive in Vilnius at 13:00 on Sunday, but was forced to turn back before crossing the Lithuanian border and land in the Belarusian capital. Minsk Airport told the Interfax news agency that it had received a report about a bomb onboard.

However, Lina Beišienė, a spokeswoman for the Lithuanian Airports, told BNS that she was informed the plane was grounded due to a conflict between passengers and the flight crew. Lithuania has not received any information about a bomb or any other details from Belarus, she added.

Lithuania’s ambassador to Greece was the frist to expressed his anger on Twitter and stressed the incident set the lives of dozens of civilians “in great danger.”

However, Belarusian opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is currently in exile in Vilnius, released a statement, saying that the flight was grounded in order to arrest Belarusian opposition activist and blogger Roman Pratasevich, the founder of the Nexta information channel on Telegram social network.

According to Tikhanovskaya’s adviser Franak Viachorka, Belarus used a fighter jet in order to ground the Vilnius-bound plane.

“This is a shock, horror. The plane from Athens to Vilnius was hijacked with an MiG-29 fighter,” he told BNS, confirming that Pratasevich has been arrested.

“They scrambled a military fighter jet MiG-29, the Blearusian dispatcher instructed the plane to change course and fly to Minsk Airport, purportedly due to some threat of explosives. Then they conducted a repeated security check of passengers, inspected the aircraft and, as the passengers were disembarking from the plane, Pratasevich was detained,” Viachorka is quoted by BNS.

“They hijacked the plane like Somali pirates,” he added.

Regarding the question how the Belarus authorities knew Pratasevic was onboard of the flight, Viachorka posted that Pratasevich’s surveillance took place already at the airport in Athens.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis called the report about the flight “disconcerting”.

“Disconcerting news about the forced landing of an international flight from Athens to Vilnius in Minsk. We are working with international partners to ensure the safe return of passengers to Vilnius,” he posted on Facebook.

Linas Linkevičius, a diplomat and Lithuania’s former foreign minister, called the incident “reckless and lawless” operation by the Belarusian special service”. “One can’t use airspace controlled by regime criminals,” he tweeted.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said on Sunday that Pratasevich had asylum in Lithuania and demanded that he be immediately released. He said he is “calling on our NATO and EU allies to react to the threat that the Belarusian regime poses to international civil aviation.”

He stressed that he will raise the issue at the EU Council on Monday in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Europe has been set on alert.

Member of the European Parliament Raphael Glucksmans said that “The Belarusian regime literally hijacked a plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, two EU capitals, to seize a journalist, Roman Protasevich, who now faces the death penalty. It is an unprecedented fact and a furious madness. Europe must rule with force.”

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3 comments

  1. Simply UNBELIEVABLY! Is it Lukashenko who rules the air trafic now??? Such a sh..y little dictator he is. So scared to lose his power because he knows that when he loses the power he will be accused and sentenced for his crimes! May the Belarus people rise and give him what he earns! (Not even Mr Putin has done something like this!)

    • Europe hadn’t done s**t about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shotdown in 2014. Cheap gas is more important than values. And set the precedent that Europedoesn’t stand for s**t.

  2. Wow. There’s a high chance that someone will make a movie abt this someday.