Italy calls Belarus plane diversion 'state hijacking'

By: AFP      Published: 05:45 PM, 24 May, 2021
Italy calls Belarus plane diversion 'state hijacking'

Italy's foreign minister on Monday condemned as a "state hijacking" the forced diversion by Belarus to its capital of a passenger plane carrying a wanted opposition activist.

Luigi Di Maio told an online meeting the move was "unacceptable", adding: "We're talking about a state hijacking", according to Italian news agencies ANSA and AGI.

He said he expected the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, to discuss the matter with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"It is clear that this is not only a European question but a question of the alliance of values that we share with many of our allies, including overseas," Di Maio added.

Authorities in Belarus on Monday insisted they acted legally when they diverted  Ryanair flight FR4978 from its Athens-to-Vilnius route to Minsk, then arrested one of the passengers, opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

The government accused the West of making unfounded claims for political reasons.

SAS airline says it will avoid Belarus airspace

Scandinavian airline SAS said Monday it would avoid Belarusian airspace after Minsk diverted a Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight carrying an opposition blogger and arrested him.

The announcement by SAS followed a recommendation from the Transport Agency calling on Swedish airlines to consider avoiding Belarus airspace.

"This recommendation is in effect until the situation and issue has stabilised. We are closely monitoring the developments," said Simon Posluk, the agency's head of maritime and aviation traffic.

"We will follow the instructions and re-route the flights that are concerned," SAS told AFP.

According to SAS, only the route between Oslo and Kiev, which has two weekly flights, will be affected.

The decision came one day after a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was diverted while in Belarusian airspace over a supposed bomb threat.

Accompanied by a Belarusian fighter jet on the orders of strongman Alexander Lukashenko, the plane landed in Minsk where Protasevich, a 26-year-old who had been living in Lithuania, was arrested along with his Russian girlfriend.