Lukashenko defends the grounding of Ryanair which upsets European air traffic rules – POLITICO

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Efforts to punish Belarus for the forced grounding of a Ryanair flight wreaked havoc in European airspace on Wednesday, with planes returning to base or failing to take off.

This is the result of an EU call to ban Belarusian airlines from flying in EU airspace or landing at EU airports and European airlines to avoid flying in EU airspace or landing at EU airports. cross Belarus.

But Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of Belarus, insisted on Wednesday that he had done nothing wrong by forcing the Ryanair plane to land in Minsk on Sunday, after which opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his companion were expelled and arrested.

He insisted he was acting after Hamas, the militant Middle East group, sent a threatening note from Switzerland.

“I ask you to understand one simple thing: if the plane had a bomb and the terrorists intended to detonate it, there was nothing we could have done about it. But I couldn’t let the plane fall on the heads of our people. “He told the Belarusian parliament, according to to the state-controlled Belta News Agency.

A Hamas spokesperson denied that the group had any knowledge of or connection to the note, according to media reports.

Lukashenko also downplayed reports that the plane was forced to turn around for Minsk by a fighter jet, blaming the decision to land in the Belarusian capital on the crew and claiming the fighter had been scrambled “by all the rules”.

“The decision to land the plane was not ours,” he said.

These justifications are unlikely to mitigate the outrage over the Ryanair incident and its impact on European aviation. On Wednesday, the EU Aviation Safety Agency released a security bulletin recommending that airlines of EASA member countries avoid Belarusian airspace “unless such operations are deemed necessary for safe operations in unforeseen circumstances.”

On Wednesday, a flight from Belavia, the Belarusian national airline, from Minsk to Barcelona circled the Polish border, then returned to the Belarusian capital after Polish air traffic control authorities. mentionned “the plane did not obtain authorization to enter French airspace.” Another Belavia flight from Minsk to Warsaw has been cleared to land, but the Polish government has said it will prepare an order banning such flights which goes into effect on Thursday.

French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Monday that the country would suspend the authorization of Belavia flights to France.

Belavia ad it is suspending its flights to Finland and the Czech Republic from Wednesday, adding that Sweden and Latvia also canceled his permits.

Several airlines confirmed this week that they will fly around Belarusian airspace, including Lufthansa, KLM and Air France.

Air France’s decision to dodge Belarusian airspace has prompted retaliation from Russia, according to the airline. One of his flights, which was scheduled to leave Paris Charles de Gaulle for Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, was postponed on Wednesday after Russia barred him from entering the country, according to the airline.

“Air France confirms that it had to postpone flight AF1154 (CDG / SVO) on May 26, 2021 for operational reasons linked to bypassing Belarusian airspace, requiring a new authorization from the Russian authorities to enter their territory”, wrote the airline in an emailed statement. “The flight has been postponed to May 27 and a new update will be provided tonight,” he added.

Lukashenko insisted that the actions of his forces were “super professional”.

Immediately after Sunday’s incident, Lukashenko’s office reported on social media that he had ordered a fighter plane. escort the passenger plane, without providing further details.

“We had to do what we did to ensure safety in the air and especially on the ground. We did everything we could to save people,” he said on Wednesday – the first time that he addressed the issue.

Lukashenko, who fought to stay in power after a fraudulent election in August sparked months of massive protests against his regime, accused Protasevich of being a Western spy.

“Let his many Western defenders now answer the question: what secret service did this man work for? Not only him but also his accomplice?” Lukashenko said.

Protasevich, 26, is the editor of a Lithuania-based opposition online news portal that highlights government crackdowns and helps organize protests. He and his partner, Sofia Sapaga, 23, a Russian citizen, were taken from the Ryanair plane, arrested and face charges of organizing riots and violating public order.

Government media showed snippets of the two confessing.

Lukashenko has received additional warnings for the many opposition activists who have sought refuge abroad.

“We all know you. Bringing you to justice is a matter of time,” he said.



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