Belarus plane ‘hijacking’ to arrest journalist angers world, but not Russia

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Belarus faced growing international outrage and threats of sanctions Monday over the “hijacking” of a passenger jet to arrest an outspoken critic — a move that only Russia defended as “absolutely reasonable.”

Britain on Monday barred Belarus’ national airline and instructed UK aircraft to avoid Belarussian airspace, while Lithuania and France both called for the Eastern European nation’s airspace to be blocked.

European Union leaders were also set to debate enforcing tougher sanctions against Belarus on Monday for what EU chief Ursula von der Leyen called “outrageous and illegal behavior.”

Brussels summoned the Belarusian ambassador to condemn the “coercive act” of forcing the Ryanair jet to land in Minsk under the guise of a bomb threat to arrest Raman Pratasevich, a vocal critic of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said it appeared that agents of the Belarusian KGB were on the plane — and they also deplaned in Minsk before the other passengers continued on to Lithuania.

“I think it’s the first time it’s happened to a European airline,” O’Leary told Ireland’s Newstalk radio. “It was a state-sponsored hijacking, it was state-sponsored piracy.”

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called it a “state-sponsored terror act,” and Poland also denounced it as “an act of state terrorism.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also demanded a probe into the “serious and dangerous incident.”

Amid the international outrage, Russia stood by its key ally — and mocked Western leaders for their outrage, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it an “absolutely reasonable approach” while ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Western nations of “kidnappings, forced landings and illegal arrests.”

“We are shocked that the West calls the incident in Belarusian air space ‘shocking,’” Zakharova said on Facebook, according to AFP.

Belarus on Monday also insisted the country had acted legally and accused the West of playing politics.

“There is no doubt that the actions of our competent authorities … fully met established international rules,” foreign ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said in a statement, according to AFP.

“Unfounded accusations are being made,” he said, accusing the West of “politicizing” the situation.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it had notified its 31 member states about the incident and an airline source said the agency had recommended “caution” over Belarus.

With Post wires

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