All flights over Belarus must cease after 'air piracy': Senior UK lawmaker

A plane approaches to land in the Vilnius International Airport, in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23, 2021.
A plane approaches to land in the Vilnius International Airport, in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - The chairman of the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee called on Monday (May 24) for all civilian airlines to cease flying over Belarus after what he said was an act of air piracy by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarus scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday (May 23) and then detained an opposition-minded journalist who was on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States.

In the dramatic incident, described by one European Union leader as a hijacking, a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet escorted a Ryanair-operated passenger plane flying from Athens to Lithuania. The plane was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the authorities detained journalist Roman Protasevich.

Mr Protasevich had his head in his hands and was shaking when he realised the flight was headed for Minsk, Lithuania's Delfi news outlet said, quoting a passenger. Later, as he was led away, according to the report, he remarked: "I'll get the death penalty here." Reuters could not verify the report.

"We need to stop any aircraft overflying Belarus," Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat told Times Radio.

"This is an act of air piracy, combined with hijacking, and eventually linked to kidnapping."