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Lukashenko: Activist on plane forced to land was 'terrorist'

"That the plane was forced to land by a MiG-29 fighter jet is an absolute lie!" said Lukashenko. Belarus acted for safety reasons, he said, because the plane flew over the country's nuclear power plant.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Minsk, Belarus May 9, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Victory Day parade in 2020. Photo: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters/file photo.

Belarus' long-time president, Alexander Lukashenko, on Wednesday defended his internationally slammed decision to force the landing this weekend of a passenger plane with a dissident journalist on board.

"I acted lawfully by protecting people - according to all international rules," Lukashenko told the parliament in Minsk.

Authorities used Sunday's landing to have dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich arrested at the airport in Minsk.

Protasevich is a "terrorist," added Lukashenko, who said the 26-year-old blogger was planning a "bloody uprising" in Belarus.

"There was a terrorist on board the plane," he said, claiming that it was his country's sovereign right to detain its own citizens.

Lukashenko initially said, without elaborating, that Belarus had received information that there was an explosive device on the plane.

Therefore, he said, the plane, which was on its way to Lithuania from Greece, was diverted to Minsk with the assistance of a fighter jet.

EU sanctions

The European Union has launched new sanctions against the power apparatus in Belarus because of the action, including a landing ban for former Soviet republic's airlines and sanctions on leadership.

"That the plane was forced to land by a MiG-29 fighter jet is an absolute lie!" said Lukashenko. Belarus acted for safety reasons, he said, because the plane flew over the country's nuclear power plant.

More than 100 people were on board the Ryanair flight that was forced to land, including Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega. Both were arrested. Their fate is uncertain.

Lukashenko made other claims about Protasevich's past, including that he had fought on the side of government forces in eastern Ukraine and had "a lot of experience as a mercenary."

Protasevich had reported from Ukraine in 2014, when the war between pro-Russian forces and the central government in Kiev was breaking out. However, it has never been proven that he engaged in combat.

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