Belarus facing sanctions after Ryanair "hijacking" outrage and arrest of Roman Protasevich

Western countries have expressed outrage at the forced diversion of a plane carrying a Belarusian activist on an internal EU flight on Sunday. EU leaders are due to discuss their response to what the European Commission called a "hijacking" and the US state department "a shocking act".

Belarus forced the plane, which was bound for Lithuania, to land in Minsk claiming a bomb threat to the aircraft.

It arrested the Belarusian journalist and activist Roman Protasevich.

The 26-year-old was aboard the Ryanair plane, which was flying from Athens. The aircraft was due to land in Vilnius when Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and diverted it to the country's capital.

State media in Belarus said President Alexander Lukashenko had personally given the order for the move following the bomb alert, which turned out to be false. The plane landed in Vilnius more than six hours after its scheduled arrival.

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The incident drew sharp condemnation from across the EU, with countries urging the immediate release of Mr Protasevich and a full investigation.

The president of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda, urged the EU to impose fresh economic sanctions on Belarus at Monday's meeting of union leaders.

He told the BBC that such steps "could make a larger impact on the behaviour of the Belarusian regime".

Dozens of Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko, are already under EU sanctions including travel bans and assets freezes, imposed in response to the repression on opponents.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, said "the outrageous and illegal behaviour... will have consequences". Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called it an "unprecedented act of state terrorism".

Micheál Martin, the prime minister of Ireland, where Ryanair is headquartered, described the case as "absolutely unacceptable". Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this was a "serious and dangerous incident".

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