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European Union leaders have decided to close their airspace to Belarus and adopt a new set of sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, accused of having diverted a European airliner to Minsk to arrest a dissident , whose immediate release they demanded.
The European Union decided, on the evening of Monday, May 24, to close its airspace to aircraft from Belarus, a sanction targeting the regime ofAlexander Lukashenko, accused of having rerouted a European airliner to arrest a dissident, according to a Council spokesperson.
The 27 Member States, meeting in summit in Brussels, also asked their airlines to avoid the overflight of Belarus and demanded “the immediate release” of the opponent Roman Protassevich and his partner, according to summit conclusions posted online by the spokesperson. The Europeans demanded an investigation by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) into the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk.
“A project of targeted economic sanctions”
For its part, Air France announced Tuesday, May 25, to suspend “until further notice” the overflight of Belarusian airspace by its aircraft.
“Air France has taken note of the conclusions of the European Council and is consequently suspending, until further notice, the overflight of (Belarusian) airspace by its aircraft. The aircraft already en route will see their flight plan modified,” announced the airline in a statement. “Air France constantly follows the evolution of the geopolitical situation of the territories served and overflown by its aircraft and strictly applies the regulations”, she specified.
Singapore Airlines also announced on Tuesday changing the trajectory of its flights to avoid the country. London and Kiev have already blacklisted the airspace of this former Soviet republic while the airlines Lufthansa, KLM, SAS and AirBaltic have announced their decision to avoid its overflight.
Nearly 2,000 aircraft carrying out commercial flights fly through Belarusian airspace every week, the Eurocontrol organization said. The Belarusian company Belavia, for its part, operates around 20 flights every day from or to EU airports.
With regard to economic sanctions against Belarus, the EU also calls for “widening as soon as possible the list of officials and entities” targeted. Some 88 people, including President Alexander Lukashenko, and seven entities have already been sanctioned with an EU travel ban and an asset freeze in reaction to political repression in the country – the falsification of the presidential election of 9 August 2020 sparked an unprecedented protest movement in Belarus.
The Twenty-Seven also call for “the adoption of other targeted economic sanctions” and call on the EU’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, and the European Commission “to submit proposals to this end without delay”.
The EU has also expressed its “solidarity” with Latvia after the “unjustified expulsion” of its diplomats from Minsk. Belarus on Monday ordered the expulsion of the Latvian ambassador as well as all the staff of the embassy in Minsk, accusing the Latvian authorities of having replaced the Belarusian flag with that of the opposition on the sidelines of the World Cup. hockey. In response, Riga announced the expulsion of Belarusian diplomats.
The European reaction “is up to the gravity” of the “absolutely unacceptable, shocking, scandalous” events, declared European Council President Charles Michel. “We will not tolerate any attempt to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians,” he warned.
Support from Joe Biden
The US president joined the European condemnation on Monday evening. “The United States strongly condemns the rerouting of the plane and the arrest” of Roman Protassevich, the Democratic president said in a statement. “This scandalous event and the video which Mr. Protassevich seems to have made under duress are shameful attacks on the political opposition and the freedom of the press”, continued Joe Biden.
“I join the many calls for an international investigation to determine the facts. I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and I have asked my team to reflect on the appropriate options for holding officials to account, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners and international organizations, ”he added.