Belarus isolation grows as Europe cuts air links over diverted plane


Last Sunday Sofia Sapega and her partner, dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, were detained by Belarusian authorities.

On Monday, the European Union agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus, including banning its airlines from using the country's airspace and airports, amid fury over the situation.

Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement that she could face criminal charges.

The plane had taken off from Greece and was bound for Lithuania. Ryanair said Belarusian air traffic controllers had informed the flight of an alleged security threat and instructed it to land in Minsk.

The claim of a genuine bomb scare has been dismissed by Western leaders.

"I'm asking, I'm begging, I'm calling on the whole worldwide community to save him", Natalia said, breaking down in tears during an interview with AFP near the train station in Wroclaw, southern Poland.

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) accused the United States and European Union of double standards on human rights, which it said they have previously used as the pretext for "dozens of imperialist interventions and wars".

Mr Protasevich's Nexta Live channel on the Telegram instant messaging app is charged with playing a leading role in co-ordinating the attempted ouster of Mr Lukashenko.

"I think it will help free my son", he said.

"The lawyer tried to see him today but she was turned down, she could not see him. We still don't know if he is in there, what his condition is, how he is feeling", said Dmitry, a former soldier.

During Lukashenko's crackdown on dissent since last August's presidential election, almost all opposition figures have been driven into exile or jailed, many on charges of organising demonstrations, which the government describes as terrorism.

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With dark markings visible on his forehead, he said he was being treated "according to the law".

"He would never speak like that". The spokesperson for the U.N.'s human rights office, Rupert Colville, said Pratasevich's appearance was likely not voluntary and that he seemed to have bruising to his face, though it was hard to tell from the footage.

"I acted in a lawful way, protecting people in line with global rules", said Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for more than a quarter of a century, relentlessly stifling dissent.

The video first appeared after independent media in Belarus suggested Protasevich was hospitalized suffering from a heart problem.

Rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of what they describe as abuse and forced confessions during a crackdown on pro-democracy opponents of Lukashenko since past year.

President Joe Biden on Monday said the forced diversion by Belarus of a commercial passenger jet so it could arrest an opposition journalist was "a direct affront to worldwide norms" and condemned the action as an "outrageous incident".

The prime minister said he supports actions from global institutions including North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and added that Canada stands "in solidarity with our partners in defending journalists all around the globe".

The EU leaders also directed officials to draw up unspecified new sanctions against Belarus, and to work out a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc's skies.

Belarusian authorities then arrested blogger Raman Pratasevich, accusing him of inciting massive rallies last summer against Lukashenko's assertion of a landslide victory in last August's election, in which he won a sixth term as the country's leader with a claimed 80% of the vote.

Tens of thousands took to the streets to demand the resignation of 66-year-old Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled over Belarus for over two decades.