Latvian flag carrier airBaltic will avoid flying its planes over the territory of Belarus after an incident on Sunday that saw authorities arrest an exiled activist on board a flight that was forced to land in Minsk.
Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air also revealed it would avoid Belarusian airspace.
The decision to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic comes after a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was made to land due to an apparent bomb threat. To escort the plane, a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter took to the sky, forcing the aircraft to land in Minsk. On board the flight was Roman Protasevich, the former editor-in-chief of opposition Telegram channel NEXTA. He now works for Belamova, an outlet founded by Igor Losik, a consultant for US state-run media RFE/RL.
He was arrested immediately after touching down, and now faces time behind bars. According to Belarusian law, both NEXTA and Belamova are “extremist organizations” and are involved in what it calls terrorist activities.
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After the plane landed and the activist was arrested, no bomb was found. The plane later took off to its destination, Vilnius.
In response, Latvian Transport Minister Talis Linkaits said that airBaltic would not be flying over Belarus “for the time being.” A spokeswoman for the company told Reuters that airBaltic will stick to the arrangement “until the situation becomes clearer or a decision is issued by the authorities.”
The incident has also caused a strong reaction inside political circles. On Monday, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell called for an international investigation, and demanded the immediate release of Protasevich.
“This is yet another blatant attempt by the Belarusian authorities to silence all opposition voices,” Borrell said. “In carrying out this coercive act, the Belarusian authorities have jeopardized the safety of passengers and crew.”
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A joint statement was also issued by the chairs of the parliamentary foreign affairs committees of Ireland, the UK, the US, Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania, asking for a “ban on all overflight of Belarus including flights to and from the country.”
“We call on NATO and European Union states to put sanctions on the Lukashenko regime and suspend their ability to use Interpol and other international organizations to further attack democracy in Europe,” it said.
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