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EU to cut air links with Belarus following flight diversion incident
Brussels, May 25, 2021
Leaders of the European Union (EU) member-states have agreed to cut the bloc's air links with Belarus following Sunday's Ryanair flight diversion incident.
According to the conclusions of the special EU summit on Monday, the 27-member bloc strongly condemned the incident which endangered aviation safety and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to urgently investigate "this unprecedented and unacceptable incident".
Leaders of the member-states urged the European Council to adopt the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines; prevent access to bloc's airports of Belarusian flights; and called on all EU-based carriers to avoid overflight of Belarus, according to the conclusions.
Irish airline Ryanair said in a statement on Sunday that its flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was notified by Belarusian authorities of "a potential security threat on board" and was "instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk".
"Nothing untoward was found," it added.
The flight later took off again and landed in the Lithuanian capital at 9.25 p.m. Sunday night after a seven-hour detour.
In an updated statement on Monday, Ryanair said that it "condemns the unlawful actions of Belarusian authorities", calling it "an act of aviation piracy".
"This is now being dealt with by EU safety and security agencies and NATO. Ryanair is fully cooperating with them and we cannot comment further for security reasons," it informed.
It was also reported that the whereabouts of dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, who was taken into custody after the plane was forced to land, remained unknown.
His father, Dmitry, said in an interview with Belarusian radio broadcaster Radio Svoboda that he was convinced that the careful operation did "not only involve" the country's secret service.
"The operation was of a large enough scale to spit on the entire international community and their opinion," added the dissident's father, who called the forced landing "an act of terrorism".
"Unfortunately, we don't know where he is and how he's doing."