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Lukashenko says documents on Ryanair flight will reveal ‘what’s going on’ as Putin stresses support for Belarus

A Ryanair flight traveling from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius was intercepted and forced to land in Minsk as it flew over Belarus on Sunday. When it landed, prominent opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his Russian partner Sofia Sapega, who were on board the flight, were both arrested.

Ahead of the closed-door talks between the two strongman leaders in Sochi on Friday, Lukashenko told Putin while gesturing to a briefcase that he had brought documents to show Russia “what’s going on” regarding the incident.

Lukashenko claims the flight was hijacked due to a bomb threat, claiming the threat came from Switzerland, claims Swiss authorities refute.

The email indicating a bomb threat was sent 30 minutes after Lithuanian authorities received a signal from Minsk to land the plane bound for Vilnius, according to Lithuanian President Gitanas Naus selonda.

“The initial signal came from Minsk airport with the obligation to land at Minsk airport, and that signal came 30 minutes earlier than the email,” Nausėda told CNN on Friday. “So this is the reason, the mismatch between the officially presented information and the true news. This mismatch shows that this is misinformation, and we cannot just keep it to be true.”

United States warns airlines to ‘exercise extreme caution’ when flying over Belarus

The European Union has banned carriers registered in Belarus from flying to and from European airports and urged European airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace. The bloc is also considering new sanctions against Belarus.

The decision to ban Belarus-registered carriers was “painful” to take because “this type of transportation generates hard currency” for Belarus, Nausėda said.

Nausėda said the action was directed against the Belarusian regime and the oligarchs, and not against the Belarusian people or members of the opposition.

US aviation authorities on Friday warned airlines “to exercise extreme caution” when flying over Belarus.

A notice issued by the Federal Aviation Administration will remain in effect until it “can better assess the circumstances” surrounding the incident.

Lukashenko says documents on Ryanair flight will reveal ‘what’s going on’ as Putin stresses support for Belarus

“The FAA’s assessment of the current international investigation report is necessary to determine the associated safety implications for US civilian passenger transport operations” in the airspace, he said.

On Thursday, the International Civil Aviation Organization announced that it would conduct an investigation into the hijacking of the flight, while at least two European carriers say they have been denied permission to fly to Moscow by Russian authorities after having asked to take an alternative route bypassing Belarus. airspace.

Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency said in a statement on Friday that it had issued a notice informing airlines that changing previously approved routes to and from Europe through Russian airspace could result in customs clearance delays. longer due to increased demands.

During the meeting between the two strongmen, Lukashenko told Putin: “You know, there are always those who want to throw problems at us.”

“Taking advantage of the relationship of trust that I have with you, I brought some documents. I will show them to you so that you understand what is going on, “Lukashenko said, adding later:” I will show you some documents, you will understand what is going on there and what happened. There is an attempt to shift the situation to the level of August of last year. “

Last August, Lukashenko’s contested re-election sparked some of the biggest anti-government protests in Belarusian recent history.

Protasevich was one of dozens of Belarusian journalists and activists campaigning in exile against Lukashenko’s 27 years in power. Protasevich, 26, is the founder of the Telegram channel Nexta, which helped mobilize anti-Lukashenko protests, and is on a list of those wanted by the government for terrorism.

Putin told Lukashenko on Friday that there had been no international outcry in 2013 as a plane carrying the Bolivian president was forced to land in Austria after false rumors circulated that the former subcontractor from the US National Security Agency Edward Snowden was on board the plane.

Earlier this week, Lukashenko described the attacks on Belarus as a modern hybrid war.

“The West has moved from (organizing) revolts to strangling the country,” Lukashenko told the Belarusian parliament. “As we predicted, our villains both outside and inside the country, changed their methods of attacking the Belarusian state. They crossed many red lines and transgressed the limits of the good. common sense and morality. “

The G7 group of the world’s richest nations on Thursday added its voice to international condemnation of Belarus’s actions, issuing a joint statement calling the move “a serious attack on the rules governing civil aviation.”

In the statement, the Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the High Representative of the EU, demanded the “immediate and unconditional release of (Roman Protasevich), as well as of all other journalists and political prisoners detained in Belarus,” condemning the actions of the Belarusian authorities “in the strongest terms”.

CNN’s Kara Fox, Stephanie Halasz, Tim Lister and Zahra Ullah contributed to this report.


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