Belarusian airlines banned from flying over EU or using its airports

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By Euronews
In this May 23, 2021, file photo, a Belavia plane lands at the International Airport outside Vilnius, Lithuania
In this May 23, 2021, file photo, a Belavia plane lands at the International Airport outside Vilnius, Lithuania   -  Copyright  Credit: AP

Brussels has banned Belarusian airlines from flying over the EU's airspace or using its airports following Minsk's move to divert a Ryanair passenger plane and arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich last month.

EU headquarters said member countries will ``be required to deny Belarusian carriers permission to land in, take off from or fly over their territories.

Belarusian national carrier Belavia runs flights linking Belarus with some 20 airports in Europe including Paris and Berlin.

Economic sanctions were announced by EU leaders shortly after the incident that led to the arrest of Protasevich.

Belarus' international isolation has deepened since the May 23 incident, in which Belarusian flight controllers told the crew of a Ryanair jet of an alleged bomb threat. They also instructed them to land in Minsk, where journalist Roman Pratasevich was pulled off the plane by authorities.

Further sanctions targeting key Belarusian industries are expected to be discussed at next week's G7 summit in the UK.

The flight ban is set to come into effect on Saturday (June 5).

Taped 'confession'

It comes after 26-year-old Protasevich was featured in a broadcast Wednesday in which he says he has been involved in a plot to seize power in Belarus and has been set up by an unidentified associate.

He is also shown saying protests against Lukashenko are now pointless following a tough crackdown and suggests the opposition should wait for a more opportune moment.

However, his father, Dmitri Protasevich, told AFP that the televised confession was the result of "violence, torture and threats".

"I know my son very well and I'm convinced he would never say such things," he said.

In the hour-long documentary, Roman went on to say he had been in contact with conspirators who planned a forceful seizure of power in Belarus and that he was a liaison between them and opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanuskaya, who fled to Lithuania after losing the election to Lukashenko.

He also said that the Belarusian authorities were unaware that Protasevich was on board the Ryanair flight when flight controllers diverted it to Minsk citing a bomb threat.

No bomb was found after the landing, but Protasevich was arrested along with his Russian girlfriend.

Belarus has been rocked by months of protests following Lukashenko's landslide reelection for a sixth straight term - an election rejected as fixed by many international observers and opposition within the country.

More than 35,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, with claims of widespread torture and mistreatment of prisoners.