Belarus Role in Ryanair Landing Was ‘Gangsterism,’ Irish PM Says
(Bloomberg) -- Belarus carried out an act of “gangsterism” in diverting a Ryanair Holdings Plc flight last month, Ireland’s Prime Minister, Micheal Martin, said.
Belarus officials re-routed the flight from Athens to Vilnius so the passenger plane landed in Minsk, where authorities detained a dissident journalist who’s been outspoken in his criticism of President Alexander Lukashenko. Governments from Europe to the U.S. rejected Lukashenko’s explanation that the detour under escort by a MiG-29 fighter jet was necessary because of a bomb threat that turned out to be fake.
The “gangsterism we saw with the hijacking of a plane last month shows a regime which is the opposite of strong,” Martin said in a speech on Saturday. “It is too weak to respect its own people or to respect basic laws.”
Ryanair has its headquarters in Ireland. The European Union and the U.K. responded with outrage to Lukashenko’s actions and banned Belarusian airlines from entering their airspace or landing at their airports. The EU is weighing further sanctions that may include targeting Belarus’s potash industry when the bloc’s foreign ministers meet June 21.
The U.S., the EU and the U.K. have demanded the release of the journalist, Raman Pratasevich, who was shown on Belarus state TV last week confessing to alleged crimes and praising Lukashenko. Critics of the regime said Pratasevich’s wrists appeared to show signs of torture in the broadcast.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown his support behind Lukashenko and welcomed his ally for talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi just days after the Ryanair scandal erupted on May 24. Lukashenko has waged a brutal crackdown on opposition protesters since disputed presidential elections last August.
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