Global Outrage as Belarus Diverts Flight, Arrests Opposition Activist

A Belarusian dog handler checks luggages off a Ryanair Boeing 737-8AS parked on Minsk International Airport's apron in Minsk

Flight-tracker sites indicate the plane was about 10 kilometres from the Lithuanian border when it changed course. Pratasevich wasn't on the plane when it took off again, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said in a recorded statement. According to the statement, Lukashenko, an ally of President Vladimir Putin of Russian Federation, gave an "unequivocal order" to "make the plane do a U-turn and land".

According to PAP, Morawiecki will hold a conversation with Michel later tonight to discuss the details of the sanctions, specifically banning Belarusian carriers from the European Union airspace in response to the incident.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called for an global response. The protests have dwindled in recent months, but Belarus authorities are continuing to crack down on opposition with arrests.

Belarus's top investigative agency said it had opened a criminal case into a false bomb threat.

737-800 carrying scores of passengers from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to the Belarusian capital under the escort of a Mig-29 fighter jet after its crew was notified by authorities in Minsk of a "potential security threat on board", a Ryanair spokeswoman said.

"We will find out who are the other four that did not travel with the rest. Lithuania has launched an investigation to find out what really happened on that plane", he said on Facebook.

Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called Belarus's action "contrary to worldwide law" and called for a "strong and effective" reaction, while Germany demanded an "immediate explanation" from Belarus.

Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich arrives for a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus, April 10, 2017.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who like Protasevich now operates from Lithuania, called on the United Nations aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), to kick Belarus out.

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"Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety".

Extremely worrying reports of a Ryanair plane forced to land in Belarus to detain an opposition blogger. But Landsbergis, the Lithuanian foreign minister, said there were 171.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted: "The forced landing of a commercial plane to detain a journalist is an unprecedented shocking act".

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that "such an act can not be left without definite consequences from the side of the European Union" and called for Pratasevich to be released. He called for the release of Pratasevich and for the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review the incident.

The incident has drawn global criticism, with Germany calling for an immediate explanation and Poland's prime minister describing it as a "reprehensible act of state terrorism".

Belarusians took to the streets demanding the resignation of Lukashenko, who has ruled with an iron fist for over two decades and in August secured a landslide victory in an election his opponents say was rigged.

"The outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences", European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen tweeted, calling for Protasevich's release, and adding those responsible "must be sanctioned".

The historic Belarus protests, which left at least four people dead, have now subsided, but journalists and activists continue to receive prison sentences in the aftermath. Last week, 11 staff members of the TUT.by news website were detained by police.

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