Selasa, 25 Mei 2021

Flights avoiding Belarus after ‘state-sponsored’ Ryanair hijacking -

The European Union has called on airlines to avoid flying over Belarus and plans to sanction the eastern European country, after a Ryanair flight was “hijacked” and forced to land there.

On Sunday, a plane travelling from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius was diverted as it passed over Belarusian airspace. The crew was notified of a supposed bomb threat, and Belarus air traffic control directed the flight to land in Minsk.

President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to “escort” the commercial flight into the Belarusian capital.

The plane was on the ground for five hours. No threat was found, but Belarusian authorities arrested journalist Roman Protasevich, who is a critic of the government.

During a news conference on Monday local time, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyon said the bloc is “closing our airspace to planes from Belarus” and called on EU airlines not to fly over the country, adding that “further economic sanctions will be presented soon”.

“This is an attack on freedom of expression and this is an attack on European sovereignty,” she told reporters.

“This outrageous behaviour needs a strong answer, therefore the European Council decided that there will be additional sanctions on individuals that are involved in the hijacking but this time also on businesses and economic entities that are financing the (Belarusian) regime.”

RELATED: Fury over airline’s bizarre ‘hijacking’

At the same time as the announcement, a number of international airlines revealed their plans to avoid flying over Belarus in the wake of the incident.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary accused the nation of “state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy”.

Germany’s Lufthansa revered its course late on Monday, with a company spokesperson telling CNN Business that “due to the current dynamic situation, we are suspending the operation of Belarusian airspace for the time being”.

Scandinavian Airlines told the publication in a statement it will reroute its twice-weekly flights between Oslo and Kiev – the capitals of Norway and Ukraine – in line with instructions from the Swedish Transport Agency.

“Safety is always our highest priority. We follow the development closely and are in contact with Scandinavian and European aviation authorities and follow their instructions,” the airline said.

Latvia’s AirBaltic also confirmed it had “decided to avoid entering Belarus airspace until the situation becomes clearer or a decision is issued by the authorities”.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter he has instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines “avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe”.

Meanwhile, Ryanair set about fixing its widely panned initial response to the hijacking, which made no mention of the fact that two of its passengers had been detained.

“Ryanair condemns the unlawful actions of Belarusian authorities who diverted Flight FR4978 to Minsk yesterday, which was an act of aviation piracy,” the airline said in its “updated” statement.

“This is now being dealt with by EU safety and security agencies and NATO. Ryanair is fully co-operating with them and we cannot comment further for security reasons.”

Speaking to Irish radio, Mr O’Leary said he believed Belarusian KGB agents were on board the flight.

“It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion, and we believe there were also some KGB agents offloaded,” he said.

“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy.”

– with Sam Clench

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2021-05-25 13:36:20Z

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