Europe and Britain to slap ‘rogue state’ Belarus with new sanctions and shut off air space after Ryanair hijacking


EUROPEAN nations followed in the footsteps of Britain last night and slapped rogue state Belarus with sanctions over its hijacking of a Ryanair flight.

Furious EU leaders leaders announced they’ll ban the country’s airlines from flying over the continent’s airspace and from using any of its airports.

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EU chiefs have green lighted new sanctions on Belarus

They demanded the release of blogger Roman Protasevich – a fierce opponent of dictator Alexander Lukashenko – and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The pair were hauled off a flight on Sunday after it was ordered under threat of being shot down to divert to Minsk airport over a bogus “bomb scare”.

Belarusian authorities farcically blamed terror group Hamas for the so-called threat, but euro chiefs said that explanation was totally implausible.

They scrambled a Russian made MiG fighter jet to intercept the plane which was travelling from Greece to Lithuania – both EU countries.

The move put the lives of almost 200 passengers and crew in danger and has sparked anger and condemnation across the West.

Dominic Raab slammed the “shocking assault on aviation and international law” and said it represents a “danger to civilian flights everywhere”.

He has banned all UK flights from entering Belarus airspace and summoned the Belarus ambassador in London for a dressing down.

EU chief Charles Michel accused Belarus of playing ‘Russian roulette’ with people’s lives

Dominic Raab said Britain will also hit Belarus with new sanctions

And last night EU leaders followed suit, calling on the International Civil Aviation Organisation to launch a probe into the atrocity.

The bloc will also slap more sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on officials involved in the operation to hijack the jet.

EU Council chief Charles Michel fumed: “We will not tolerate any attempt to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians.”

Commission boss Ursula von der Leyen added: “This is an attack on democracy. This is an attack on freedom of expression.

“And this is an attack on European sovereignty. And this outrageous behaviour needs a strong answer.”

Angela Merkel said Minsk’s official explanation of why it grounded the plan was “completely implausible”.

And Lithuania’s president Gitanas Nausėda said the “unprecedented” incident amounted to “state terrorism”.

He added: “The time for rhetoric and vocal expansions has passed – it’s over.

“We need clear actions in order to change the pattern of behaviour of this very dangerous regime.”

Regime critic Roman Protasevich was paraded on state TV

He was hauled off a Ryanair flight that was forced to divert and land in Minsk

Ryanair’s boss Michael O’Leary referred to the incident as a “state-sponsored hijacking”.

Europe’s robust response was agreed swiftly at a Brussels summit last night in a sign of how shocked the continent was by the incident.

In recent months the EU has struggled to agree any foreign policy on action, with Hungary recently vetoing a statement calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Joe Biden welcomed the new sanctions and said the US is now drawing up “appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible”.

Lukashenko’s regime is already subject to some sanctions after he ignored last year’s election result and clung to power by force.

Last night the Belarusian regime paraded Mr Protasevich on state TV.

In a 30-second video shot at a Minsk prison he is seen “confessing” to charges of organising mass unrest.

His appearance came after reports the 26-year-old had been hospitalised with heart disease shortly after being detained.

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey said it wouldn’t “come as any surprise” if the confession had been forced out of him through torture.

The pensions secretary said: “I’m not in a position to tell you exactly what our latest intelligence is on the coercion or not of this.

“But all I can say is the behaviour of the Belarus regime does not lend itself to think in any way that this statement was offered voluntarily.”