A Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus for several hours on May 23, with activists saying it was done to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich on board.
European nations reacted with outrage, accusing Belarus of “state terrorism”.
Ex-editor of the Nexta group Roman Protasevich was detained before the plane was allowed to resume its flight.
Belarus media said a MiG-29 escorted the jet to Minsk because of a bomb scare but no explosives were found.
The plane finally landed in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, its original destination, at 21:25 local time, more than seven hours after its scheduled arrival.
Arriving passengers said the situation in Minsk had been calm but that they were given no information. One said Roman Protasevich looked “super scared. I looked directly to his eyes and it was very sad”.
There have already been calls for the EU and NATO to intervene.
Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was beaten by Alexander Lukashenko in last year’s presidential polls widely denounced as rigged, was among those demanding Roman Protasevich’s release.
Since last year’s election, President Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, has cracked down on dissenting voices. Many opposition figures have been arrested or, like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, fled into exile.
Ryanair said checks in Minsk found “nothing untoward” and the aircraft was cleared to depart, leaving Minsk at 20:50 local time.
“Ryanair has notified the relevant national and European safety and security agencies and we apologise sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay which was outside Ryanair’s control,” the statement added.
The Ryanair statement made no mention of Roman Protasevich.
Nexta was the first to break the news of his arrest.
Editor-in-chief Tadeusz Giczan tweeted a quote from a passenger on the plane who said that Roman Protasevich had told them who he was once they were on the ground at Minsk, with him adding “they’ll execute me here”.
Belta, the state-owned news agency in Belarus, said President Lukashenko had personally given the order for the plane to land in Minsk following the bomb alert, and approved despatching the MiG-29 fighter jet.
On September 5, activist Olga Kovalkova became the latest to say she had taken refuge in neighboring Poland amid threats of imprisonment.
President Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has accused Western nations of interfering.
Protesters, human rights activists and observers say riot police are brutally suppressing peaceful marches in the former Soviet republic.
Belarus borders Russia, on which it depends heavily for energy and with which it historically has close ties, as well as Ukraine and EU states.
After the Viasna non-governmental organization reported 130 arrests on September 6, the Belarusian interior ministry confirmed for Russian news agency Interfax at least 100 detentions across the republic.
Eyewitnesses told Interfax that police began to make arrests in Minsk after the unsanctioned rally ended and people were going home. Video footage on September 7 shows men in plain clothes beating peaceful protesters with batons.
Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Karayev defended the actions of the security forces.
“They talk about the brutality of the Belarusian police, and I want to say this: there are no more humane, restrained and cool-headed police anywhere in the world,” he was quoted as saying by the official Belta news agency.
September 6 has become the key day for street demonstrations since the rallies began.
In recent days the security forces – dressed all in black with balaclavas over their faces – targeted university students as they returned from their holidays, dragging some from the streets and university buildings into unmarked minivans.
Protests have also been reported in other Belarusian cities and towns including Mogilev, Grodno, and Gomel.
State TV released a video showing President Lukashenko arriving at the presidential palace by helicopter, wearing a flak jacket and carrying an automatic weapon.
Similar demonstrations were held in other Belarusian cities. Meanwhile in Lithuania, thousands of people – including President Gitanas Nausėda – formed a human chain from the capital Vilnius to the Belarusian border in solidarity with those protesting in Minsk.
More human chains were planned in the Estonian capital Tallinn and in Prague in the Czech Republic.
This weekend’s rally in Minsk follows the country’s biggest protest in modern history on August 16, when hundreds of thousands filled the streets. Strike action in key factories across Belarus is also keeping up the pressure on the president.
President Lukashenko insists he won the election fairly and has ruled holding another poll. On August 22 he accused NATO of “trying to topple the authorities” and install a new president in Minsk.
He said he was moving troops to Belarus’s western borders to counter a NATO build-up in Poland and Lithuania, and vowed to “defend the territorial integrity of our country”.
NATO responded by saying it posed “no threat to Belarus or any other country”, and had “no military build-up in the region”.
Alexander Lukashenko has also accused an opposition council – set up by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to organize peaceful transition – of trying to seize power. Two of its members were questioned by police on August 21.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announces he has given orders to end the unrest in the capital Minsk triggered by disputed elections.
The official result gave him 80% of the vote but the opposition has denounced the poll as fraudulent.
The move signaled an escalation just as EU leaders agreed to impose sanctions at a virtual summit.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, made clear that the EU did not recognize the result of the election and called on President Lukashenko to release hundreds of protesters who have been imprisoned.
On August 19 Wednesday, President Lukashenko approved a cabinet that would see Roman Golovchenko retain his role as prime minister, with many other key members of the previous government reappointed, the Tut.by news network reported.
Among those on the list to remain in place was Interior Minister Yuri Karayev, whose responsibilities include policing and public security.
The proposed government is subject to further consent by the lower house of parliament.
Alexander Lukashekno, who has led Belarus since 1994, said he had ordered police to quell protests in Minsk.
“There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind,” he told his security council.
“People are tired. People demand peace and quiet,” he added.
President Lukashenko said he had ordered border controls to be tightened to prevent an influx of “fighters and arms”.
He also warned that workers at state media who had gone on strike in protest at the election and the subsequent crackdown on protests that they would not get their jobs back. Russian replacements have reportedly been brought in.
Alexander Lukashenko also accused those picketing outside factories of harassing workers.
He had earlier accused the opposition of “an attempt to seize power”.
His remarks came shortly after the exiled leader of the opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, had urged EU leaders to reject the election.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 37, who left for Lithuania after being detained for hours following the vote, released a video statement on August 19.
She said President Lukashenko had “lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world” and urged the EU to back what she called the “awakening of Belarus”.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya added: “People who went out to defend their vote in the streets of their cities all across Belarus were brutally beaten, imprisoned and tortured by the regime desperately clinging on to power. This is taking place right now in the middle of Europe.”
She has formed a “co-ordination council” with plans for “new, fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision”.
After a three-hour video conference, EU Leaders agreed unanimously to take three actions over Belarus.
Firstly, to impose sanctions including asset freezes for an as yet undisclosed number of officials involved in alleged election-rigging, brutality and imprisonment of protesters. The exact sanctions are still being worked out.
Secondly, leaders agreed to a joint form of words making clear that the EU stands with the people on the streets, and does not recognize the result. But it does not go as far as stating they do not recognize President Lukashenko’s authority, as some EU officials wanted.
Thirdly, leaders offered help in trying to mediate dialogue between the government and the opposition, to find a way for the president to stand down and peacefully transfer power.
In addition, €53 million ($63 million) of financial support from the EU to Belarus is being re-assigned away from the state to non-governmental organizations, with some money assigned to help the victims of violence, as well setting up alternatives to government-backed media organizations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Belarus election had been neither free nor fair.
EU leaders, she added, condemned “the brutal violence against demonstrators as well as the imprisonment and use of violence against thousands of Belarusians” which followed in the wake of the disputed election.
Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the need for a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition in Belarus.
Russia has agreed to offer security assistance to Belarus in the case of external military threats, President Alexander Lukashenko has said.
President Lukashenko also voiced concerns over NATO military exercises taking place in neighboring Poland and Lithuania.
The news comes as the embattled Belarusian president faces mass protests over the disputed August 9 election.
Thousands of Belarusians gathered outside state television on August 15, demanding full coverage of the demonstrations.
The unrest erupted after Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory in last week’s election, the result of which has been condemned amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging.
The Central Election Commission says Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, won 80.1% of the vote and the main opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya 10.12%.
However, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya insists that where votes were properly counted, she won support ranging from 60% to 70%.
As the unrest continued on August 15, President Lukashenko sought help from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Lukashenko said President Putin had promised to provide what he called comprehensive assistance in the event of external military threats to Belarus.
The announcement came the day after EU foreign ministers agreed to prepare new sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for “falsification”. The US has also condemned the election as “not free and fair”.
In a joint statement on August 15, the prime ministers of three Baltic republics – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – “expressed deep concern at the violent crackdown… and the political repression of the opposition by the authorities”.
Latvia and Lithuania have previously said they are prepared to mediate in Belarus, provided the authorities stopped violence against protesters and formed a national council with members of civil society. They warned that the alternative was sanctions.
The Baltic leaders said the Belarusian presidential election was “neither free nor fair” and called for a “transparent” vote “with the participation of international observers”.
“The prime ministers urge the Belarusian authorities to refrain from violence against peaceful demonstrators [and to] release all political prisoners and those that have been detained,” the statement added.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya left for Lithuania following the election after she publicly denounced the results. She had sent her children to Lithuania for safety before the vote.
Some 6,700 people were arrested in the wake of the election, and many have spoken of torture at the hands of the security services.
Amnesty International said accounts from released detainees suggested “widespread torture”.
Demonstrations have continued following Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s call for further peaceful rallies on August 14.
Some 100 staff came out of the state television building to join August 15 protests, saying they planned a strike on August 17, AFP reports. Others have signed a letter in support of a strike.
On election day, Belarusian state channels aired the voices of Lukashenko supporters and did not cover the demonstrations. State TV later showed footage of violence to blame protesters and warn people not to participate.
Several journalists have resigned over the coverage.
A “March for Freedom” is also planned in the center of Minsk on August 16, a week after the contested election.
According to Belarus’s election officials, Alexander Lukashenko won 80.23% of the vote in August 9 presidential election, with his main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, receiving 9.9%.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya entered the election in place of her jailed husband and went on to lead large opposition rallies.
Alexander Lukashenko, 65, has been in power since 1994.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has refused to accept the autocratic president won 80% of the vote.
“I consider myself the winner of this election,” she said on August 10.
Police and demonstrators have clashed for a second night in the capital Minsk and other cities.
A lack of scrutiny – no observers were present – has led to allegations of widespread vote-rigging in the poll.
Protests continued across Belarus on August 10. In Minsk, officers reportedly used tear gas against the demonstrators and arrested 30 people. One witness said they saw officers with truncheons beat protesters.
Alexander Lukashenko has won a fifth term as Belarus’ president after a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election, exit polls say.
An exit poll indicates that Alexander Lukashenko secured nearly 83% of the vote, state media reports. No other candidate achieved more than 5%.
Alexander Lukashenko has governed the former Soviet republic almost unchallenged for 21 years.
No veteran opposition leaders stood as they were not allowed to register.
They said that the vote would not be free or fair.
Three other candidates were on the ballot paper besides Alexander Lukashenko.
On October 11, Belarusian TV showed President Alexander Lukashenko casting his vote in an election in which he is seeking a fifth consecutive term of office.
He was accompanied to the polling station by his youngest son, Kolya.
Kolya Lukashenko, 11, has accompanied his father on numerous public occasions in recent years.
Critics have accused Alexander Lukashenko and his supporters of preventing the main opposition parties from building any public profile and restricting their access to the all-powerful state-owned media.
This year’s Nobel Literature Prize laureate, Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, has warned that her country is a “soft dictatorship”.
Svetlana Alexievich said Alexander Lukashenko was a man connected to the Soviet era and was untrustworthy. None of her books is published in Belarus.
Last time a presidential election was held in Belarus – in 2010 – seven of the nine presidential candidates were arrested.
One of them was only released this year following widespread international pressure.
The candidates were accused of various offences, including the encouragement of violent protest and attempting to overthrow the state.
The opposition says that there are no plans for post-election demonstrations similar to those held in December 2010.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko surprised everyone by taking his 11-year-old son, Kolya, to the UN General Assembly in New York.
Kolya, short for Nikolai, was photographed posing with his father alongside Barack and Michelle Obama at a reception for the summit on September 28.
Lukashenko Jr. joined world leaders in the seats of the general assembly hall as his father addressed delegates from around the world.
It was not a one-off “take your child to work day” for Belarus’s ruling family.
Kolya Lukashenko, the president’s youngest son, often accompanies his father on official business, including a visit to Beijing for China’s World War Two commemorations on September 3.
The boy was pictured watching Beijing’s massive military parade alongside the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and lining up for a photo shoot with leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Photo Belarus Presidency Website
There are claims Alexander Lukashenko is grooming Kolya to be his successor. The president denied this and insisted Kolya was so attached to him that he would not go to sleep without him.
Alexander Lukashenko, who is estranged from his wife Galina, illegitimately fathered Nikolai, who was born in 2004. Though never confirmed by the government, it is widely believed that the Kolya’s mother is Irina Abelskaya.
Irina Abelskaya and Alexander Lukashenko, now 61, had an affair when she was Lukashenko’s personal doctor.
Alexander and Galina Lukashenko have two sons together – Viktor, 29, and Dmitry, 25.
Among other recent trips, Kolya Lukashenko went with his father to the United Arab Emirates in October 2014 where they visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Kolya may be extraordinarily well travelled for an 11-year-old, but some critics have begun to question the increasing impact of all these appearances on his education.
The boy missed a week of school in September this year – the same amount of time that he missed during six months of 2014, according to the Polish-funded, Belarusian-language TV station Belsat.
Alexander Lukashenko’s tight grip on power has brought criticism from the West – with the Bush administration describing him in 2005 as the “last dictator in Europe” at the head of an “outpost of tyranny”.
Human rights groups accuse him of widespread abuses.
Meanwhile most Belarusian media channels are controlled by the government.
Kolya Lukasheno has received special attention in recent years – attending numerous world events and meeting global leaders.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called Azerbaijan’s failure to award any points to Russia’s entry in this year’s Eurovision song contest as “outrageous”.
Sergei Lavrov said the points had been “stolen” from Russia’s Dina Garipova and “this outrageous action will not remain without a response”.
Azerbaijan says it cannot explain how it awarded no points to Russia, when Dina Garipova came second in its phone poll.
Russian voters awarded the maximum 12 points to Azerbaijan’s Farid Mammadov.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has ordered an inquiry into how its votes for Russia apparently went missing.
And the country’s Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, sitting next to Sergei Lavrov at a press conference in Moscow, called it a “detective story”.
Elmar Mammadyarov said records from all three of Azerbaijan’s mobile phone operators show that Azeris awarded Ukraine’s entry the most votes, followed by Russia’s.
Azerbaijan says it cannot explain how it awarded no points to Russia, when Dina Garipova came second in its phone poll
“Where did the votes go? How did they disappear? This, of course, is a question for our public television,” he said.
Sergei Lavrov said he and his counterpart had agreed they should take a “unified course of action” once the reasons for the discrepancy became clear.
A spokesman for the European Broadcasting Union, which runs the Eurovision Song Contest, said the phone vote was not definitive. A national jury in each country also contributes 50% of the final decision, the Associated Press reports.
Despite the high-level political interest, 10 points for second place from Azerbaijan would not have made any difference to Dina Garipova’s fifth place, since she finished 17 points behind Norway.
Azerbaijan, which hosted last year’s contest, has traditionally tried to maintain good relations with Moscow though there have been tensions over energy in the past.
Meanwhile, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has weighed in with his own accusations. Suspicious that the Belarusian singer did not receive a single point from Russia, he has claimed that the final was falsified.
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