Belarusian chief defends his motion to divert flight

Belarus’ authoritarian president is defending his motion to divert a European flight that triggered bruising European Union sanctions and accused the West of waging a “hybrid warfare” to “strangle” the ex-Soviet nation

KYIV, Ukraine — Belarus’ authoritarian president on Wednesday defended his motion to divert a European flight that triggered bruising European Union sanctions and accused the West of waging a “hybrid warfare” to “strangle” the ex-Soviet nation.

On Sunday, Belarusian flight controllers ordered a Ryanair jetliner flying over the nation to land due to a bomb risk and a Belarusian fighter jet was scrambled to escort the aircraft to Minsk, simply earlier than it was to land in Vilnius, Lithuania, from Athens, Greece. As soon as the aircraft landed, Belarusian safety brokers arrested Raman Pratasevich, a 26-year-old journalist and activist, and his Russian girlfriend.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko denied that the fighter jet was forcing the Ryanair aircraft to land as an “absolute lie” and defended his motion to divert the flight as a vital response to the bomb risk.

“I acted in a lawful approach, defending individuals in keeping with worldwide guidelines,” mentioned Lukashenko, who has dominated the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for greater than a quarter-century, relentlessly stifling dissent.

Talking earlier than lawmakers and prime officers in Minsk, Lukashenko mentioned the EU response was a part of a “hybrid warfare” in opposition to Belarus.

“Our ill-wishers inside and outside the nation have modified their strategies of attacking the state,” Lukashenko mentioned. “That is why they switched from organizing riots to making an attempt to strangle us.”

Lukashenko has confronted unprecedented stress at residence with months of protests triggered by his reelection to a sixth time period in an August 2020 vote that the opposition rejected as rigged. However he has solely doubled down on repression, and greater than 35,000 individuals have been arrested for the reason that protests started, with hundreds crushed.

“They crossed quite a few purple traces, and likewise limits of purpose and morale,” Lukashenko mentioned. “It’s now not simply an info warfare, it’s a contemporary hybrid warfare and we have to do the whole lot to forestall it from spilling right into a scorching battle.”

He threatened that Belarus would now retaliate by weakening its border controls halting Western-bound unlawful migration and drug trafficking.

“We have been stopping migrants and medicines — now you’ll catch them and eat them your self,” he mentioned.

Pratasevich, who left Belarus in 2019, has turn out to be a prime foe of Lukashenko with a well-liked messaging app he ran taking part in a key position in serving to manage the large protests. After his detention, the 26-year previous journalist was seen in a short video clip on Belarusian state tv late Monday, talking quickly to say that he was confessing to among the fees authorities have leveled in opposition to him.

Pratasevich had been charged in absentia with staging mass riots and fanning social hatred. These carry a jail sentence of as much as 15 years, and a few worry Pratasevich might face extra severe fees, together with some that carry the loss of life penalty.

——— Related Press author Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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