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Belarus faces sanctions over “state piracy”


Belarus faces sanctions over “state piracy”
Belarus ordered a Ryanair Holdings Plc flight transiting its airspace to land and arrested a journalist on board. (Reuters)

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BRUSSELS – Several airlines said on Monday they would avoid Belarusian airspace after Belarus scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair jetliner and arrest a dissident journalist in an act denounced by Western powers as “state piracy”.

European Union leaders meeting on Monday evening were set to ban Belarussian airlines from their bloc’s airspace and call on EU-based carriers to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.

The leaders of the 27 member states will also consider widening the list of Belarussian individuals they already sanction and call on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to urgently investigate Sunday’s incident, when Belarus forced a Ryanair plane to land.

“The reaction should be swift and be severe,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of the EU summit.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, using language that was echoed by a number of other EU countries, said: “This was effectively aviation piracy, state sponsored.”

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” by the incident and called for a full investigation.

The three Baltic states said Belarusian airspace should be declared “unsafe” and – as regional tensions mounted – Belarus and Latvia said they were expelling each other’s ambassadors.

A few airlines and countries did not wait for guidance on how to respond to the flight from Greece to Lithuania being diverted as it flew through Belarusian air space.

Britain said it was issuing a notice to instruct British airlines to cease flights over Belarus and that it would suspend the air permit for Belarus’ national carrier, Belavia with immediate effect.

Latvian airline, airBaltic and Scandinavian airline, SAS said they would stop using Belarusian airspace, and Cyprus-registered, Avia Solutions said its Lithuania-based airlines would follow suit.

Lithuania’s transport minister, Marius Skuodis said Poland’s LOT and Hungarian airline Wizzair would also not use Belarusian airspace and said all flights to and from Lithuanian airports must avoid Belarusian airspace.