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White House says Belarus’ action was a ‘shocking act’, demands probe

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday (May 24) Belarus’ action in forcing a passenger plane to land and then detaining a dissident journalist aboard was “a shocking act” and said the United States demands an international probe of the incident.

“This was a shocking act of diverting a flight between two EU member states for the apparent purpose of arresting a journalist. It constitutes a brazen affront to international peace and security by the regime,” Psaki said.

Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday (May 24) and then detained 26-year-old Roman Protasevich after the plane landed in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

Psaki said that the US ambassador had conveyed U.S. concerns to the government of Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, as well as to Russia, which has close ties to Lukashenko.

Several airlines said on Monday they would avoid Belarusian airspace after the incident.

The European Union was considering responding to Sunday’s incident by limiting international air traffic over Belarus and restricting its ground transport, and could tighten sanctions already in place on the former Soviet republic.

As regional tensions rose, Belarus and Latvia said they were expelling each other’s ambassadors.

Some airlines and countries did not wait for guidance on how to respond to the flight from Greece to Lithuania being diverted as it flew through Belarusian air space.

Countries also called for the release of Protasevich, whose social media feed from exile has been one of the last remaining independent outlets for news about Belarus since a mass crackdown on dissent last year. Sophia Sapega, a 23-year-old student traveling with him, was also detained.

(Production: Ashraf Fahim)

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