| 16.6°C Dublin

Plane scare Ryanair plane diverted to Belarus over bomb threat and President Lukashenko's opponent arrested

Raman Pratasevich, who had fled the country for Poland, faces charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Close

Raman Pratasevich has been arrested (Sergei Grits/AP)

Raman Pratasevich has been arrested (Sergei Grits/AP)

Raman Pratasevich has been arrested (Sergei Grits/AP)

A prominent opponent of Belarus’s authoritarian president has been arrested after a Ryanair plane was diverted following a bomb threat, in what the opposition called a hijacking operation by the government.

A spokesman said President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered that a MiG-29 fighter jet accompany the plane – which was travelling from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania – to an airport in Minsk.

Deputy air force commander Andrei Gurtsevich said the plane’s crew made the decision to land in Minsk but Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the plane was forced to land there.

Belarus’s “regime is behind this,” Mr Nauseda said on Twitter.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry said Raman Pratasevich was arrested at the airport.

Mr Pratasevich is a co-founder of the Telegram messaging app’s Nexta channel, which Belarus last year declared as extremist after it was used to help organise major protests against Mr Lukashenko.

Mr Pratasevich, who had fled the country for Poland, faces charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The presidential press service said the bomb threat was received while the plane was over Belarusian territory. Officials later said no explosives were found on board.

Close

President Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on opponents (Sergei Sheleg/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

President Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on opponents (Sergei Sheleg/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

President Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on opponents (Sergei Sheleg/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the International Civil Aviation Organisation to begin an investigation.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

“It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich,” she said. “Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety.”

Months of protests arose after last August’s presidential election that official results say gave Mr Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

Police cracked down on the protests harshly, detaining some 30,000 people and beating many of them.

Although protests died down during the winter, Belarus has continued to take action against the opposition and independent news media. Last week, 11 staff members of the TUT.by news website were detained by police.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Top Videos





Privacy