EU adopt ‘extreme’ Belarus travel sanctions to free dissident seized in Ryanair ‘hijack’

Belarus: Expert discusses EU response following interception

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European leaders have voted to impose a string of travel restrictions on Belarus after the country’s Kremlin-aligned leader Alexander Lukashenko forced a Ryanair passenger flight to redirect to Minsk. Once the jet had landed in the Belarusian capital dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich and his partners were removed from the plane and taken away. In response, the EU announced on Monday that Belarusian airlines had been banned from the bloc’s airspace and airports. 

Speaking ahead of the EU summit on Monday, France 24 correspondent Dave Keating said banning Belarusian airlines from using EU airspace was a “most extreme” option.

He said: “They could increase the already existing sanctions on Belarus because of what they say was a fraudulent election and the crackdown on the protests against that election.

“But there are some more extreme measures that they could do.

“One is to block all flights over Belurusain airspace say that the airspace is not safe. The other would be to block all travel from Belarus to the EU just via air or maybe via ground and air transport.”

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He added: “That would be the most extreme reaction and the one most likely to get that dissident journalist released.

“So we will see, because this needs the agreement of all 27 countries, whether they can get a unanimous agreement for something strong at today’s summit.”

This comes after Polish MEP Radek Sikorski was quizzed over the European Union’s response following the interception of a Ryanair plane.

BBC Today programme host Nick Robinson asked the former Polish Foreign Minister: “Are you worried that there is going to be at the highest levels of the EU, including inside the commission a kind of set of mixed messages?”

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Mr Sikorski replied: “That wasn’t a satisfactory comment. Someone joked let us rejoice JFK’s limo has made it back to Washington. No, the concern should be for the two passengers who were seized in Minsk.

“After this threat to EU citizens, to their lives, if it is true that the MIG fighter threatened a civilian aircraft with being shot down in order to seize an EU protected person this is completely outrageous.

He added: “We cannot let it pass.”

The question was presented to the Polish MEP after the EU’s transport Commissioner tweeted: “The Ryanair flight just took off bound for Vilnius.Great news for everyone especially the family and friends of people on board.”

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Mr Robinson pointed out that the post did not mention the jailed journalist Mr Pratasevich. 

The UK Foreign Office has condemned the diversion of Ryanair Flight FR4978 on May 23 to Minsk, Belarus and calls on Belarusian authorities to release Roman Protasevich.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The UK is alarmed by reports of the arrest of NEXTA journalist Roman Protasevich and circumstances that led to his flight being forced to land in Minsk.

“We are coordinating with our allies. This outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications.”

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