EU aviation agency asks to avoid Belarus airspace

Minsk, Belarus: Following the intercept of a Ryanair flight bound for Lithuania and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has urged airlines to avoid Belarus airspace.

"The circumstances surrounding this action cast serious doubts on the respect shown by Belarus for international civil aviation rules," the EASA said in a statement.

"The actions undertaken by Belarus amounted to an increased safety risk for the above-mentioned flight and put into question the ability of Belarus to provide safe air navigation services."

Belarus, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, dispatched a Mig-29 fighter jet to intercept a passanger plane as it flew through Belarusian airspace en route to Lithuania.

Authorities forced the plane to land in Minsk, citing a bomb threat.

Authorities forcibly disembarked opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, which Brussels condemned as a hijacking and act of air piracy.

As a result, European Union officials agreed to a slew of measures against Belarus, including a restriction on Belarusian airspace and airports.

The EASA said that pending the finalization of an international investigation into the incident, "operators having their principal place of business" in an EASA state "should avoid operations" in Belarus "unless the use of that airspace is deemed necessary to ensure safe operation in case of unforeseen circumstances."

Other airlines outside of the agency's remit were also instructed to follow suit.

At the same time, the EASA stated that it did not believe the incident's safety concern constituted an "unsafe condition" that would warrant a safety directive requiring airlines to comply.

The interception of the Ryanair plane is widely regarded as a violation of the 1944 Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation, which established rules for civil aviation. Minsk has been a signatory to the convention since 1993.

The UN's International Civil Aviation Organization is investigating and has expressed grave concern. The council of the organization is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Leader lies?

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last Wednesday he had acted "lawfully to protect people" by diverting a Ryanair flight over Belarusian airspace, an act that sparked a global outcry.

The Athens-to-Vilnius flight carrying a wanted opposition activist was forced to make a landing in Minsk on Sunday over a supposed bomb scare, prompting several EU carriers to stop flights over Belarus.

"I acted lawfully to protect our people," Lukashenko said in an address to members of parliament, the Belta state-run news agency reported.

The strongman leader, who has ruled over the ex-Soviet nation for over two decades, also said "attacks" on his country had crossed "red lines".

"As we predicted, our ill-wishers at home and abroad have changed their methods of attacking the state," Lukashenko said.

"They have crossed many red lines and crossed boundaries of common sense and human morality."

Lukashenko added it was an "absolute lie" that a Mig-29 fighter jet forced the flight to land in Minsk.

Lukashenko and his allies are under European and US sanctions over the violent crackdown on post-election protests that gripped the nation last year.

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