Friday, May 28, 2021

Lithuania & Latvia Ban Belarus Flights After “State Hijacking” Incident

Lithuanian and Latvian governments have decided to put border restraints on Belarus after the latter has forcibly landed a plane destined for Lithuania in its own territory.

According to the Interior Minister of Lithuania, Agne Bilotaite, the country will do the utmost to reinforce its border with Belarus, reports.

“It is crucial to find and disburse greater resources to fund the work [on border infrastructure] to equip the EU’s border with Belarus with proper monitoring equipment,” Minister Bilotaite said on Thursday.

Lithuania’s borderline with Belarus is 679 kilometres, and it is longer than with any other neighbouring country. The country’s maritime and overland border is now entirely monitored by advanced technical systems. Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte argues that the unpredictability of Belarusian authorities is the reason for the strict restriction.

“Lithuania’s state border service has been instructed to urgently draft a plan for action and procedures for the prompt introduction of advanced monitoring systems,” she said.

Similarly, on May 25, the Latvian government restricted Belarus flights, meaning they are forbidden to enter the airspace of Latvia and use its airports. The latter also will cease using Belarus airspace and airports. The country will stop serving aircraft companies that use the Belarus airspace on their flight routes.

This week, the Latvian government issued a press release in which the Civil Aviation Agency has identified Belarus’ airspace as “unsafe for civil aircraft.”

The Latvian Minister of Transport, Tālis Linkaits, said that this is the first case of the Convention on International Civil Aviation violation and noted how the act has endangered passengers, crew, and aircraft safety.

“I am pleased that exactly the same incident was assessed by the European Council yesterday, its recommendations are in line with the position of the Latvian government – our decisions are coordinated and balanced,” the Minister of Transport noted.

On May 23, under President Alexander G. Lukashenko’s order, the Belarus government forced the Ryanair flight coming from Athens, Greece, to land at Minsk’s airport to detain the 26-year-old dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich.

The journalist and activist, Protasevich, moved to Lithuania in 2019 after being involved in organising street protests against Lukashenko’s regime. In the August presidential elections, President Lukashenko won 80 per cent of the votes in the election, while citizens claim that the elections were rigged by Lukashenko, who is often called Europe’s last dictator.

In November, under a law that forbids organising protests that violate “social order”, security services in Belarus put Protasevich on a list of accused terrorists and two journalists that reported for the anti-government demonstrations were sentenced to two years in prison.

Joe Biden, US President, has called the arrest “shameful”, whereas the Greek Foreign Ministry called it a “state hijacking.” The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, compared this as “an act of state terrorism.”

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