Belarus: Foreign Secretary welcomes ICAO fact-finding mission into diverted flight

Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

But he continues to enjoy solid support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is hosting the Belarusian leader tomorrow. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called for "a credible global investigation into the events of May 23", which she called "a direct affront to worldwide norms".

We have been talking to the mother of Sofia Sapega, who was arrested alongside her journalist boyfriend when a Ryanair flight was diverted.

Later on today he protested on the Belarusian border along with dozens of Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists. The White House also issued a "Do Not Travel" warning for Belarus to U.S. citizens, and warned American passenger planes to "exercise extreme caution" if considering flying over Belarusian airspace.

European Union countries are banning Belarusian carriers and the European Union has also urged airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Ahead of closed-door talks between the two strongmen leaders in Sochi on Friday, Lukashenko told Putin while gesturing to a briefcase that he brought documents to show Russian Federation "what is going on" regarding the incident.

"There has been an attempt to stir up the situation so it would end up being similar to that of August a year ago".

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The strongman and his allies are already under a series of Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed his disputed re-election to a sixth term last August. Putin and the Belarus leader have met regularly since August, when historic protests broke out against Lukashenko's almost three-decade rule.

Lukashenko, 66, waged a ruthless crackdown on his opponents and has leaned increasingly on Putin amid condemnation from the West. Several people died during the unrest in Belarus, thousands were detained, and hundreds reported torture in prison.

"There was an impression that remarks by Europeans were staged in advance and each country played its part", Gudkov told TASS, adding that "there was no forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk, neither an air traffic controller nor the scrambled fighter jet of the Belarusian Air Force forced a pilot to change direction".

While expressing concern about the forced diversion of flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius, ICAO has been quick to point out that it does not have the authority to directly enforce measures in retaliation at what political and airline industry leaders have characterized as a state-sponsored hijacking. But European leaders this week agreed to cut air links with Belarus and told airlines to avoid the country's airspace. The Kremlin criticized the flight ban as politically motivated and risky, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova calling it "completely irresponsible". No evidence of explosives was found on the Ryanair Boeing 737 when it landed in Minsk and the emailed threats that Belarusian authorities said they received from Palestinian group Hamas were found to have been sent after the flight already diverted, according to Swiss-based internet service provider Proton Technologies. Protasevich, who helped organize the demonstrations against Lukashenko's rule previous year, was arrested along with Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, after the plane landed in the city.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged the European Union to be "braver" and impose more sanctions against the Minsk regime.

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