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2021.05.23 18:30

Lithuanian leaders demand release of Ryanair flight passengers held in Minsk

BNS, LRT.lt2021.05.23 18:30

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė has demanded that Belarus immediately release all passengers and the crew of a Vilnius-bound Ryanair flight held in Minsk.

"Passengers and crew of Ryanair flight en route from Athens to Vilnius have been put in danger – when forcibly landed in Minsk," she tweeted. "We demand that the plane and passengers be allowed to fly to Vilnius immediately!"

Lithuanian officials say 171 passengers were on the Vilnius-bound flight from Athens, including one national each from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Georgia, and Nigeria.

Among the passengers there were also three German, nine French, 11 Greek, 94 Lithuanian, two Latvian, four Polish, five Romanian, four Belarusian, three Russian, and two Syrian nationals.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda also issued a similar statement and the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry summoned Belarus' representative in Vilnius over the incident.

Read more: Vilnius-bound plane grounded in Minsk, allegedly hijacked by Belarus government

"I demand that the Belarussian regime immediately release the detained person and allow him and other passengers on the plane to continue their trip to Vilnius," Nausėda posted on Facebook. "I am calling on NATO and EU allies to respond immediately to the threat posed by the Belarusian regime to international civil aviation."

"The international community must take urgent action to prevent similar incidents from happening again," he said, adding that he will raise the issue at the European Council's meeting that is starting tomorrow.

The Ryanair flight was to arrive in Vilnius at 13:00 on Sunday. The plane was close to Lithuanian airspace when it was instructed to change course and land in the Belarusian capital.

Asta Skaisgirytė, Nausėda's chief foreign policy advisor, said that Belarus used two military aircraft, a MiG-29 fighter jet and a Mi-24 helicopter, in the operation, which was likely staged by the Belarusian KGB.

Belarusian opposition activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich was among the passengers. He was detained after the plane landed in Minsk.

Pratasevich is an editor of the opposition Telegram channel Nexta, which was instrumental in guiding and helping organise the protests against Alexander Lukashenko and has since been declared a terrorist organisation by the regime.

Read more: Minsk regime hijacked plane like ‘Somali pirates’, says Belarusian opposition in Vilnius

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