BELARUS SCRIBE NABBED AFTER WARPLANE INTERCEPTS RYANAIR FLIGHT
European nations were demanding answers after Belarusian authorities dispatched a fighter jet to force a Ryanair flight to divert to Minsk, where a dissident journalist who was on board was then arrested, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported.
Ryanair said its plane was flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday when it was notified of "a potential security threat onboard" by air traffic controllers in Belarus and told to divert to Minsk for an emergency landing.
The airline said the plane landed safely in Belarusian capital and "nothing untoward was found" after passengers were offloaded and an inspection took place.
But authorities at the airport used the opportunity to arrest Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist and opposition activist, who was a passenger, according to state media and the rights group Viasna.
The opposition news outlet Nexta also confirmed the arrest of Protasevich, the organization's co-founder and former editor who has been living in exile. It also said that Protasevich had been followed before he boarded the plane in Athens.
Governments across Europe reacted with the outrage, suggesting authoritarian Belarus used the pretext of a safety threat to conduct a "state hijacking" of a civilian airliner in order to go after a critic.
Belarusian state media reported that the plane's diversion came on the personal instructions of long-time President Alexander Lukashenko after he had purportedly been alerted to a possible bomb on board and was concerned about the plane's safety.
He also ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet be scrambled to accompany the Ryanair plane, according to the Belta state news agency.