The bloc agrees to ban Belarus from its airspace amid other sanctions following the forced diversion of a plane and the arrest of an opposition journalist.
European Union leaders have agreed on a set of sanctions against Belarus, including a ban on the use of airspace and airports by the bloc of 27 nations amid fury over the forced diversion of a passenger plane flying between EU countries to arrest an opposition journalist. .
In what EU leaders have called a blatant “hijacking” of an Irish Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday, they demanded on Monday the immediate release of Roman Protasevich, a key critic of Belarusian authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.
EU leaders also decided to slap the individual sanction of officials linked to the operation and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to launch an investigation into what they consider an unprecedented move and what some they have called it “state terrorism”.
Decisions at the summit will become actions as soon as court proceedings allow.
In a video posted Monday earlier, Protasevich said he was cooperating with authorities and “confessing” to the charges of organizing protests.
In a video broadcast on state television, Protasevich said: “I am in the No. 1 detention center in Minsk. I can say that I have no health problems, including with the heart or any other organ. “
The 26-year-old is wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and is sitting behind a table in a non-descriptive room with a pack of cigarettes by his side.
He stirs his hands as he makes the statement and some dark marks are visible on his forehead.
“The attitude of the employees towards me is as correct as possible and in accordance with the law. I continue to cooperate with the investigators and I confess to having organized mass riots in the city of Minsk, ”he said.
His allies immediately dismissed the comments for being made under duress.
“This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners, “Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Thiskanouskaya wrote on Twitter, using the Belarusian spelling of his name.
The Belarusian Interior Ministry earlier confirmed Protasevich’s arrest, saying he was being held in pre-trial detention.
Minsk also dismissed rumors on social media that Protasevich had been hospitalized and said authorities had no information about any health issues.
The statement, published on the Telegram courier service, was the first to be provided by authorities about Protasevich’s location since he was detained Sunday at Minsk airport when his plane had to make an emergency landing there.
The blogger’s ordeal began on Sunday when a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet rushed to intercept a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania in response to an alleged bomb threat and escort it to Minsk.
Ryanair said Belarusian air traffic control notified its crew of a “potential security threat on board” and instructed them to divert the plane to the nearest airport, Minsk. Upon landing, Belarusian authorities arrested Protasevich.
The EU and the United States imposed several rounds of financial sanctions on Minsk last year, which had no effect on the behavior of President Alexander Lukashenko, who resisted widespread protests against his government after a disputed election. .
Lukashenko denies electoral fraud. Since the disputed vote, authorities have rounded up thousands of their opponents, with all major opposition figures now in jail or in exile.
Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat written on behalf of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denied that his group had any knowledge or connection to the issue.
Belarus said its ground controllers had targeted the flight, but had not ordered it to land. State media said the intervention was personally ordered by Lukashenko.
Russia, which has provided security, diplomatic and financial support to Lukashenko, accused the West of hypocrisy.