EU bans Belarusian carriers from airspace, as political tension remains high
The European Union has decided to ban Belarusian airlines from entering its airspace, effective from 5 June. The decision was taken after Belarus hijacked a Ryanair plane in May, citing a bomb threat to arrest an opponent.
Friday's decision by the EU comes two weeks after the Belarusian authorities decided to divert a plane carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
The ban primarily concerns the national airline Belavia.
"Other sanctions targeting entities and individuals will follow quickly," warned European Council President Charles Michel, renewing a call to "release all political prisoners in Belarus".
We keep our word.— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) June 4, 2021
As of midnight any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers is prohibited to land in, take off from or overfly #EU territory.
The formal decision was adopted today in response to the forced landing of #Ryanair flight. pic.twitter.com/XfijtKjXqi
On Wednesday, European airlines had already been instructed not to fly over the ex-Soviet country for "security" reasons.
This retaliatory measure was denounced by the international association defending the interests of airlines, the IATA, which sees it as a "retrograde and disappointing development" that amounts to "politicising air safety".
"Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas," IATA chief Willie Walsh said in a statement.
EU condemns Belarus interview under pressure
Meanwhile, several politicians on Friday condemned an interview shown on Belarusian state television with the journalist Roman Protasevich, saying he was only speaking "under duress".
Germany said the interview, broadcast on Thursday was a "disgrace", while British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was "disturbing".
Looking uncomfortable in the video, Protasevich said he had called for protests last year and praised Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Speaking during a visit to Warsaw, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said: "All such videos are shot under pressure."
"We should not believe any of the words of these people, including Roman Protasevich," said Tikhanovskaya, who ran against Belarusian strongman Lukashenko in an election last year.
"They are done after torture," she said.
Protasevich was arrested on May 23 along with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega when their Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted, intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and made to land.
Belarusian authorities accuse Protasevich of organising mass riots, a charge that could land him in prison for 15 years.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe