Athens-Vilnius flight forced to land in Belarus; dissident arrested

Athens-Vilnius flight forced to land in Belarus; dissident arrested

Belarus media report that a Ryanair flight from Athens to Lithuanian capital Vilnius was diverted while over Belarus airspace and forced to land in Minsk with the sole purpose of arresting journalist Roman Protasevich, who has been critical of the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The flight map shows the aircraft was about to cross into Lithuanian airspace before suddenly changing direction. 

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda reacted by tweeting “Unprecedented event! A civilian passenger plane flying to Vilnius was forcibly landed in #Minsk. Belarusian political activist & founder of (online information stream) @NEXTA_EN was on the plane. He is arrested. (Belarus) regime is behind the abhorrent action. I demand to free Roman Protasevi(ch) urgently!”

There are conflicting reports on what happened. In one, there was supposedly a call for a suspected bomb on board. In another, coming from NEXTA, Belarus KGB officers, who had boarded the plane in Athens, caused a commotion. NEXTA’s managing director also reported about a fighter directing the civilian airliner into Minsk airport. None of those reports have been confirmed yet.

The Associated Press reported that “(Belarus’) presidential press service said President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered that a MiG-29 fighter jet accompany the Ryanair plane…to the Minsk airport.”

Greece’s Foreign Ministry tweeted: .@GreeceMFA is in constant contact with the competent authorities & European partners regarding the aircraft operating the Athens-Vilnius flight that made a forced landing in Minsk. Our primary concern is the safety of all passengers.

Also, European Council President Charles Michel: “Very concerned regarding reports of a forced landing of #Ryanair flight in Minsk. We call on Belarus authorities to immediately release the flight and all its passengers. An #ICAO investigation of the incident will be essential.”

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