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Two Latvians aboard Ryanair plane seized in Belarus

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko provoked fresh international outrage Sunday by seizing an international airliner passing through Belarusian airspace, apparently in a bid to get a leading dissident into his clutches.

A flight operated by Irish carrier Ryanair from Athens to Vilnius was reportedly forced to land at Minsk, sparking immediate condemnation from the Lithuanian authorities, with other political leaders quickly joining in.

Aboard the flight was Raman Pratasevich, an anti-Lukashenko campaigner and journalist. He is believed to have been taken into custody by the Belarusian authorities who apparently used a bomb threat as a pretext to force the plane down having sent a fighter jet to intercept it.

However, LSM's Latvian-language service reports that Lina Beišiene, a representative of the Lithuanian airport operator Lietuvos oroostasai, told the BNS news agency that she did not have any information about a bomb threat, and the plane was diverted to Minsk due to a conflict between passengers and crew members.

Thaddeus Gichan, an editor with the Nexta news agency for which Pratasevich wrote, said on Twitter that employees of the Belarusian State Security Committee had apparently boarded the plane in Athens, and provoked a conflict with the crew when it was over Belarusian airspace to provide a pretext for its landing. 

The exact circumstances remain unclear.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda quickly condemned the act as an "unprecendented event".

According to Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, two people under Latvian protection (which includes both citizens and non-citizens) are believed to be among the passengers. Earlier, he said forcing the plane to land in Minsk had been "contrary to international law".

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis provided more details about the passenger roster.

Landsbergis later confirmed that after being released by the Belarusian authorities the plane finally touched down in Vilnius Sunday night, though it was not immediately apparent how many people had been removed in Minsk.

Calls for a strong European reponse were gathering pace Sunday evening with Rinkēvičs among those advocating shutting down Belarusian airspace to all international flights.

 

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