EU leaders reflect on forcible hijacking of plane to Belarus –

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EU leaders reflect on forcible hijacking of plane to Belarus – fr


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                Les dirigeants furieux de l'Union européenne devaient envisager une réponse commune lundi après que les autorités biélorusses ont détourné un avion voyageant entre les États membres de l'UE afin d'arrêter un journaliste de l'opposition de premier plan.  
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                                    <p>Roman Protasevich, qui dirigeait une application de messagerie populaire qui a joué un rôle clé dans l'organisation de manifestations de masse contre le président autoritaire biélorusse, était à bord du vol Ryanair d'Athènes à Vilnius lorsqu'il a été détourné vers la capitale biélorusse, Minsk, alors qu'il survolait la Biélorussie. .

Belarusian flight controllers warned the plane’s crew of an alleged bomb threat and ordered them to land in Minsk, and a Belarusian fighter jet was scrambled to escort the Ryanair airliner.

Shortly after landing, Protasevich, 26, and his Russian girlfriend were driven out of the plane. The plane was finally cleared to continue its flight and landed in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, hours late.

The 27 leaders of the European Union were due to open a summit two days later on Monday and the issue was immediately placed high on the agenda amid the unanimous condemnation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Many in Europe have called for tough new sanctions against Belarus.

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Belarus plane hijacking: the big question is “will the EU come up with a unified response?”

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“We cannot let this incident pass on the basis of strong warnings or press releases,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE.

“I think there must be a real benefit to the sanctions that are being applied on the back of this. “

“It was an Irish airline, a Polish registered plane, full of EU nationals, traveling between two EU capitals,” Coveney noted.

“It can only be described as air piracy,” he added. “I think the EU has to give him a very clear answer, otherwise we are giving all the wrong signals. “

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In this March 26, 2017 file photo, Belarusian police arrest journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk, Belarus.
In this March 26, 2017 file photo, Belarusian police arrest journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk, Belarus. © Sergei Grits, AP
    </div>L'homologue italien de Coveney, Luigi Di Maio, a dénoncé cette décision comme un "détournement d'État".

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called the incident a “state-sponsored terrorist act” and proposed banning Belarusian planes from EU airports and “serious sanctions” against the Belarusian government.

“The scandalous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences”, tweeted the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, calling for the immediate release of Protasevich and adding that those responsible “must be punished”.

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<p>Le ministre français des Affaires étrangères, Jean-Yves Le Drian, a appelé à une "réponse forte et unie" de l'UE alors que le chef de la politique étrangère du bloc, Josep Borrell, a critiqué "une nouvelle tentative flagrante des autorités biélorusses de faire taire toutes les voix de l'opposition".

There was also a condemnation from the United States, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the incident “shocking” and accused the Belarusian government of endangering the lives of those in the area. on the plane, including some Americans.

Blinken called for Protasevich’s release and for the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to look into the incident.

NATO allies will meet on Tuesday to discuss the forced hijacking of a European passenger flight. “The Allies are consulting on the forced landing of the Ryanair plane by Belarus and the ambassadors will discuss it tomorrow,” a NATO official told AFP on Monday.

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Dave Keating from France 24 reports from Brussels


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‘Scared’

Flight tracking sites said the plane was about 10 kilometers (six miles) from the Lithuanian border when it was hijacked.

“I saw this Belarusian guy with his girlfriend sitting right behind us. He panicked when the pilot said the plane was being diverted to Minsk. He said there was the death penalty waiting for him there, ”said passenger Marius Rutkauskas after the plane finally arrived in Vilnius. “We sat for an hour after landing. Then they started releasing passengers and took these two. We did not see them again.

Speaking to Irish radio on Monday, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary described the incident as a “case of state hijacking, (…) state sponsored hacking”.

“I think it was very scary for the crew, for the passengers who were kept in armed custody, had their luggage searched, when it was clear that it seemed the intention … was to fire a reporter and his traveling companion, ”O’Leary told Newstalk radio.

“We believe that some KGB agents were also unloaded from the plane,” he added.

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“Calls for tougher sanctions against Belarus”


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The Belarusian foreign ministry bristled on Monday at what it called “belligerent” statements by the EU, insisting that the country’s authorities acted “in full compliance with international rules”.

Russia, a close ally of Lukashenko, has also criticized the “shocking” reactions of the West to the incident.

“It is very similar to what we have seen in the past in Russia,” said FRANCE 24 regional correspondent Gulliver Cragg.

“It sounds like the kind of story they almost don’t want you to believe; they just want to show how cheeky they are, ”Cragg added.

Protasevich was the co-founder of the Nexta channel of the Telegram messaging app, which was instrumental in organizing large protests against Lukashenko.

Belarusian authorities have called her an extremist and have laid charges of inciting rioting against Protasevich, who could face 15 years in prison if convicted.

Months of protests in Belarus were fueled by Lukashenko’s election to a sixth presidential term in an August vote that the opposition denounced as rigged.

More than 34,000 people have been arrested in Belarus since August and thousands have been brutally beaten.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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