European Union to ban Belarus flights

·2-min read

European Union ambassadors have adopted a plan to ban Belarus airlines from flying over EU territory or landing in EU airports, and prohibiting EU airlines from flying over Belarus, diplomats say.

The decision is part of broader economic sanctions against Belarus in response to Minsk's scrambling a warplane to force the landing of a Ryanair flight carrying an opposition journalist last month.

The decision is due to take effect at midnight Central European Time (CET), barring any last-minute objections by EU states before a self-imposed deadline of 1400 CET, which are not expected, the diplomats said.

European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol has said around 400 civilian planes usually fly over Belarus every day, including 300 overflights of which about 100 are operated by EU or British carriers.

Lufthansa, SAS, Air France, LOT, Finnair and airBaltic are among carriers that have already announced they would stop flying over Belarus.

Belarusian national carrier Belavia runs flights linking Belarus with some 20 airports in Europe including Helsinki, Amsterdam, Milan, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Rome and Vienna.

Enforcement of the ban will fall to national EU governments, many of whom are also members of NATO, who can scramble fighter jets to protect their airspace from unwelcome aircraft.

Earlier, Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called for the United States, Britain and the European Union to act jointly to put more pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his government.

Tsikhanouskaya made the comments during a visit to Warsaw, Poland on Friday ahead of a summit of the G7 rich countries in Britain, at which she hopes issues raised by the Belarusian opposition will be addressed.

"Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on UK, the USA, the European Union and Ukraine. They have to act jointly so their voice will be more loud," Tsikhanouskaya said.

On Thursday, detained journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on Belarusian state television, tearfully confessing to his role in anti-government protests in an interview the opposition said was made under duress.

In his third appearance since his Ryanair plane was forced to land in Belarus on May 23, Protasevich admitted plotting to topple President Lukashenko by organising "riots" and recanted earlier criticism of the veteran leader.

Tearfully, at the end of the interview Protasevich said he hoped to have a wife and children one day.

"It's painful to see 'confessions' of Raman Pratasevich. His parents believe he was tortured. This is not Raman I know," said Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, using a different spelling of Protasevich's name.

Western countries and international rights groups have condemned Lukashenko over the forced landing of the aircraft and also imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials over a crackdown on protests following a contested election last year.

Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday she believed Protasevich had been beaten and tortured in prison. A lawyer who visited Protasevich said he was fine.