Irish airline Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has described a “state sponsored hijack” as an emergency landing in Belarus of a plane that traveled between Athens and Vilnius to arrest an opposition journalist.
“I can’t say much because the European Union (EU) and NATO authorities are dealing with it now,” O’Leary told Irish broadcaster NewsTalk, before welcoming the “phenomenal work” of the flight crew.
He pointed out that the incident was “very frightening” for passengers and crew and stressed that “the (Belarusian) authorities apparently intended to remove a journalist and his companion”.
O’Leary, who stressed that crew members and passengers “were arrested by armed guards while their suitcases were being inspected” and that the airline “believes some KGB agents also got off (from the plane) at the airport”.
On the other hand, he said that Ryanair will accept the decision of the European authorities on the possible closure of Belarusian airspace before stressing that it is not a route they use frequently, which means “a very small adjustment” would imply flying over Poland.
Belarusian authorities forced an Irish airline Ryanair to land in what appeared to be an exiled opposition journalist, Raman Protasevich, to arrest. Minsk reportedly informed the crew of a bomb threat and even sent a fighter jet to force the airliner to land.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell confirmed this Monday that “the situation will be dealt with in this European Council”. “The European Union will examine the consequences of this action, including action against those responsible,” he added.
The Belarusian Security Committee (KGB) has added Protasevich and another founder of the opposition portal Nexta, Stepan Putilo, to its list of people who were involved in terrorist attacks in November 2020.
The presidential elections in Belarus on August 9, 2020, which gave Alexander Lukashenko a new mandate, led to several months of opposition protests denouncing fraud and failing to recognize the validity of the president’s victory.