Belarus is facing a possible ban from the EU after its police grounded a Ryanair plane after the Irish budget airline refused to let a group of protesters leave the aircraft. The plane was met by a police bus and several cars at the airport, and the passengers were told they would not be allowed to leave until they had been physically removed from the plane.

The European Union is the world’s largest aviation market, and the number of people flying there is growing. So far, this has created robust competition that benefits European airline passengers. But there is one European airline that is not playing nicely with others. Belarusian authorities grounded a Ryanair flight after the Irish budget airline and its pilots refused to allow Belarusian security officials to board the plane and search it for weapons. The plane was flying from Minsk to London when it was stopped by the Belarusian security forces, and the passengers were prevented from disembarking. Ryanair’s actions were defended by the airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, who said the crew was concerned about the safety of the passengers and the legality of the search.

It is not uncommon for companies to be punished by the European Union for violating the bloc’s antitrust rules, but the EU has now come down on a Belarusian airline for allegedly violating the same rules. The EU Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, on Thursday said that Minsk-based Air Belarus had to pay a fine of 10,000 euros ($11,700) for having delayed the flight of a Ryanair plane carrying a detained Belarusian opposition politician. The flight, which was forced to change its landing destination from Minsk to Prague, was made on February 11, 2016.. Read more about is europe open for travel and let us know what you think.

European Union leaders decided to impose a new set of sanctions on Belarus and ban its airlines from EU airspace and airports, a day after the country’s president downed a plane carrying a critical journalist and subsequently arrested him.

Lithuania has already stopped flights from Belarusian airspace. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said earlier that Britain had suspended the operating licence of Belarus’ national airline and advised British airlines to avoid the former Soviet country’s airspace. The EU has demanded the release of Roman Protasiewicz, 26, and his travelling companion, as well as a thorough investigation into the incident.

President

Alexander Lukashenko

a fighter jet in the air, forcing a Ryanair commercial aircraft to land as it crossed Belarusian airspace. The authorities then arrested Mr Protasiewicz and allowed the plane to continue its flight.

The incident raised questions about the legality of house arrest. Raab condemned the incident as a shocking attack on civil aviation and a violation of international law that endangers civilian flights around the world.

A video of Protasevich circulating on opposition social media on Monday shows the well-known journalist and opposition activist wearing a dark hoodie, claiming he is in a detention center in Minsk, has no health problems and is being treated according to the law.

An image from a video of Roman Protasevich circulating on opposition social media on Monday.

Photo:

@Zheltyeslivy via Reuters

Now I continue to cooperate with the investigators and confess my role in organizing the mass disturbances in Minsk, he said, sitting down with his hands clasped together.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tihanovskaya said he looked like he had been forced to make a video.

This is what Raman looks like under physical and mental pressure. I call for the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners, she wrote on her Twitter page, using the Belarusian spelling of her name.

Following last summer’s presidential election, which most Western countries deemed fraudulent, the EU imposed three sets of sanctions against Belarus, targeting Lukashenko and about 100 officials, businessmen and organizations.

On Sunday, Lukashenko’s official messaging service, Telegram, issued a statement saying that Belarusian authorities had received information that there were explosives on board a passenger jet in the country’s airspace, and that Lukashenko had ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the plane until it landed in Minsk.

Belarusian transport authorities said on Monday that the militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, had been arrested on the 23rd. May sent an email to Minsk’s national airport warning that a bomb would explode on a Ryanair flight if Israel did not stop the fighting in Gaza. Gaza authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At a summit meeting in Brussels on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed the Belarusian government’s explanation for the plane’s emergency landing as completely implausible.

President Biden on Monday condemned the boarding of a Ryanair flight, called for Protasiewicz’s release and said the United States would consider certain measures.

I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and I have asked my team to work closely with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations to develop appropriate accountability options, Biden said.

Council spokesperson

Ryanair

Holdings PLC said Monday that the airline believed agents of Belarusian intelligence services were aboard the plane when it was forced to divert to the capital Minsk on Sunday, calling the incident a state hijacking and reinforcing global airline industry concerns about the hijacking.

EU leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron (far left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (in blue), agreed Monday to ban Belarusian airlines from flying in EU airspace or landing at the bloc’s airports.

Photo:

Yves Herman/Presspool

Michael O’Leary,

the CEO of Dublin-based Ryanair, told Irish radio station Newstalk that authorities appeared to be planning to deport the journalist and his traveling companion from the country.

We think the airport also discharged KGB agents, he said, referring to Belarusian intelligence. There was no further comment from the airline.

Mr Protasevich finished his holiday with his girlfriend in Greece, where he also participated in an economic forum with Ms Tihanovska, and returned to Lithuania’s capital Vilnius. Instead, he was arrested in Belarus, his homeland, which he fled more than a year ago.

About 15 minutes before landing, passengers reported being shocked when the plane made a sharp turn. When the pilot turned on the loudspeaker, they expected him to announce that the plane was about to land in Vilnius, recalls passenger Janis Zviedris, a Let who sat in the ninth row of the plane.

Instead, I heard the word Minsk, said Zwiedrys, 43. It was a shock. The pilot mentioned Vilnius airport and security reasons.

Arthur Six, a market supervisor who had returned to Paris from Greece, sat two rows behind Mr. Protasiewicz. Before the plane landed, he noticed that Mr. Protasiewicz was having an animated conversation with one of the flight attendants and that his voice was shaking.

Mr. Protasiewicz was angry, nervous and tense, but he did not scream, said Mr. Six, who suggested that Mr. Protasiewicz, like himself and other passengers, was probably upset because he might have missed his connecting flight to Vilnius.

Upon arrival in Minsk, passengers were asked to remain in their seats. The Lithuanian blogger, who wanted to use Racel’s name, filmed the incident from her seat at the front of the plane and posted the clips on YouTube. According to her, the flight attendant told the passengers that the plane could not land in Lithuania due to legal problems and had to be diverted to Minsk.

The passengers were eventually allowed to leave the plane in groups of five or six, said Audre Chek, 34, a medical worker from Lithuania who was traveling with her mother. She said they were asked to leave their belongings on the floor next to the plane while sniffer dogs and security guards searched them, and then escorted to two different buses.

A Ryanair plane carrying Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sunday.

Photo:

andrius sitas/reuters

While the passengers waited, police officers with a dog asked Mr. Protasiewicz to get out and take his belongings from his bag, Mr. Six said. He calmly took off his clothes and headphones before boarding a bus that would take passengers to the terminal, Mr…. Six.

In the customs hall, Mr Six saw that Mr Protasiewicz was led to the front row with three other persons who looked like police officers. Mr Protasevich was not on board when he was allowed to continue his journey on a scheduled flight from Athens to Vilnius, almost eight hours after landing in Minsk.

Five or six other passengers were also missing, according to Ireland’s foreign minister, who said Monday that he was not sure if Belarusian KGB officers were on the plane.

This certainly indicates that some of the other people who left the plane were intelligence officers, the security officer said.

Simon Coveney,

Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence, on the Irish public broadcaster RTE. We do not know what country he comes from, but he clearly has links to the Belarusian regime.

Tihanovskaya, who had to go into exile in Lithuania after Belarus held flawed presidential elections in August 2020 that Lukashenko claimed to have won, said she and her supporters feared for Protasiewicz’s life.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry said Monday that Protasevich is in pre-trial detention in Minsk.

Several opposition members have left Belarus, some under threat of arrest, others by force. According to human rights activists, hundreds of supporters of the anti-government movement have been tortured by the security forces for demanding that Mr Lukashenko step down.

Roman Protasiewicz was angry, nervous and tense, but he didn’t scream.

– Another passenger

On Monday, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said Minsk was ready to invite international experts to conduct an objective investigation into the incident.

Neither Mr. Lukashenko’s office, the Belarusian Investigative Commission, nor the Emergency Situations Agency responded to requests for comment on the incident, including the chronology of events and what exactly happened.

A representative of Vilnius airport said that Minsk airport had informed them that the flight had been diverted to Belarus because of an unspecified conflict between the crew and passengers of the plane.

European and American leaders were quick to react with outrage to the forced boarding of a Ryanair flight.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden had been briefed by his national security team on Monday and called the act shocking.

The hijacking of a flight between two EU member states with the apparent aim of arresting a journalist is a blatant affront to international peace and security by the [Lukashenko] regime, Psaki told reporters. We call for an immediate, transparent and credible international investigation into this incident.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization, which oversees and coordinates global air traffic, said Sunday on Twitter that it was deeply concerned about the flight’s apparent emergency landing, noting that it may have violated the Chicago Convention, the 1944 treaty that lays down the ground rules for international flights. Several European countries are asking for an ICAO investigation or another channel.

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Information notes

Today’s headlines, news in context and good reads you may have missed with Tyler Blint-Welch.

Belarus, which is not a member of the EU or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, has gained an important regional ally: Russia. Moscow has long regarded Belarus as an important buffer between its western border and the rest of Europe. Belarus was a member of the former Soviet Union, and the two countries are still linked by linguistic, cultural and commercial ties.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the plane incident, including whether Russian agents were on board and whether Moscow was in any way involved in Lukashenko’s decision to force the plane to land.

In recent years, Moscow has been wary of attempts by the EU and the US to exert more influence over Belarus. Lukashenko, who used to court the West, has recently been quick to tighten ties with Russia, and the president

Vladimir Putin.

He accused NATO of deploying forces along the border with Belarus.

Putin has offered Lukashenko political and financial support in the face of Western sanctions and warned European leaders not to interfere in the political crisis that plagued Belarus last year with protests against its leader.

At the White House, Ms. Psaki said that Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, had expressed concern about the incident in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, on Monday and that the United States was consulting closely with European allies on next steps.

Ryanair, the low-cost carrier and one of Europe’s largest airlines, said it was considering whether to continue flying over Belarus’ airspace and was waiting for instructions from European aviation authorities. Two other airlines,

Interests in Wizz Air

PLC and AS Air Baltic Corp. have both stated that they will no longer fly over the country.

More and more European politicians – including Ireland – are calling for a ban on flights over Belarus. Mr O’Leary said his airline would seek advice from the European authorities on whether it should do so.

Expressions in Belarus

Related documents selected by the editors

Corrections and modifications
A Ryanair aircraft continued its scheduled flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania. An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Vilnius, Latvia. (corrected May 24)

-Paul Hannon, Lawrence Norman and Juris Kazha contributed to this article.

Write to Benjamin Katz at [email protected], Parmi Olson at [email protected], and Ann M. Simmons at [email protected]

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