CALLS FOR BLOCKADE OF BELARUS AIRSPACE GROW OVER HIJACKING
Calls to create a no-fly zone over Belarus' airspace and ban its planes from EU airports grew louder on Monday as European countries looked for ways to express how angry they are at the forced landing of a Ryanair flight with a dissident onboard in Minsk, Ulf Mauder wrote for Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa).
The whereabouts of dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, who was taken into custody after the passenger plane he was on was forced to land in Belarus' capital at the weekend, remain unknown.
Protasevich, a 26-year-old blogger and activist who was wanted in his homeland for inciting protests against long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko, among other charges, was arrested after his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania made an emergency landing on Sunday.
Governments across Europe have reacted with outrage, suggesting authoritarian Belarus used the pretext of a safety threat to conduct a "state hijacking" of a civilian airliner to go after a critic.
The EU was considering punitive measures, including sanctions on those responsible for the incident, as well as a landing ban for the Belarusian airline Belavia at all airports in the bloc and the declaration of the airspace over Belarus as a no-fly zone. Leaders in Latvia and France are already pushing to close off Belarusian airspace to international flights.
Airlines including Wizz Air and Air Baltic are rerouting their flights accordingly, while Poland's LOT airline said it was preparing to change flight paths. Belgium and the Czech Republic have summoned Belarusian envoys based there to discuss the forced landing, according to each country's Foreign Ministry, as well as called for Protasevich's release.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) council should meet "to consider the regime's flouting of the international rules safeguarding civil aviation."
EU leaders will discuss possible measures at a summit later on Monday. Ambassadors from NATO member states will discuss it Tuesday. A spokesperson for Belarus' Foreign Ministry said the former Soviet country was open to an international investigation into the forced landing, but defended Belarus' actions, saying it had fully complied with international regulations, and rejected EU criticism.