Iraq minister apologises after plane is ordered to turn back mid-flight to pick up his son

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's transport minister apologised on Sunday for a row in which a Lebanese airliner en route to Baghdad was ordered to turn back mid-flight to pick up his son.

Mr Hadi al-Ameri pledged to turn his son in if an Iraqi investigation found he had carried out any wrongdoing and insisted he would personally bear the costs of the Middle East Airlines flight having to turn around while travelling from Beirut to Baghdad.

"I ask you to forgive me for what happened," Mr Ameri said during a press conference at Baghdad airport in which he refused to take questions.

"The time when the sons of officials made mistakes and escaped punishment is over, and if the investigation proves my son made mistakes, I will present him to the courts myself," he added, referring to an Iraqi probe ordered by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"As a minister, I will bear the costs of transport and the losses at my own expense, because the issue relates to my son."

Lebanon's Middle East Airlines (MEA) said on Thursday that the Iraqi authorities forced its airliner to turn around some 20 minutes after leaving Beirut because Mr Ameri's son Mahdi had missed the flight.

MEA said the flight had taken off after repeatedly paging two passengers, who failed to turn up. The missing passenger was identified as Mr Mahdi al-Ameri, and the plane turned back to Beirut.

Following the incident, Mr Maliki ordered "all those responsible for preventing the plane coming from Beirut from landing in Baghdad" be "dismissed and held responsible," his spokesman Ali Mussawi said.

Later the same day, the deputy head of Baghdad airport was arrested by troops reporting directly to the prime minister, but it was unclear what role the official is thought to have played in the incident.

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