EU reaction to Belarus hijacking "should be swift and be severe," says Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo

Belgium said on Monday international sanctions against Belarus over the grounding of a civilian flight should be "swift and severe" as European Union leaders gathered to discuss airspace restrictions on top of other punishments, Reuters reports.

EU leaders, as well as the United States, strongly condemned Belarus over Sunday's incident during which Minsk scrambled a warplane and forced a Ryanair jetliner to land to arrest a dissident, Roman Protasevich, who had been on board.

"The reaction should be swift and be severe," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo told journalists ahead of talks among all 27 EU member state leaders.

He said a fourth package of EU sanctions aimed at Belarus and targetting the financial sector should be brought forward and the bloc "should also do something related to civilian aviation."

Three Baltic states said Belarusian airspace should be declared "unsafe" and that the EU should close its airspace to Belarusian flights. Poland wants to suspend all flights between the EU and Belarus until Protasevich walks free.

Summit chairman Charles Michel said the incident was "an international scandal" and that he hopes the 27 would agree sanctions on Monday, which require unanimity of all EU countries and often take weeks to prepare.

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A Latvian airline, airBaltic, became the first to announce it would no longer use Belarusian air space, while France and Ireland said air traffic restrictions could be part of the EU's response.

But it was not immediately clear whether that would amount to a legal ban, who would institute or police it, or what the exact costs would be.

The European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said it was working to help airlines avoid Belarusian air space if they wished. It said around 2,500 flights using EU airspace took off from, landed in or overflew Belarus in the week to May 19th.

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