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.
Earlier this month, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that these measures could again be tightened, if European Union member states could agree, and on Sunday many reacted with fury to Belarus' decision to divert the jet. EU leaders will discuss this unprecedented incident tomorrow during the European Council. The plane was then escorted by a Belarusian fighter jet to a Minsk airport.
Protasevich's detention has evoked strong reactions across the world.
File photo. Minsk airport.
"The plane was checked, no bomb was found and all passengers were sent for another security search", said Nexta, a Belarus opposition channel on the Telegram messaging app, which Protasevich previously edited.
Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgiryte said the operation to force-land the plane carrying around 170 people from 12 countries seemed to be pre-planned. It added that he also ordered a Mig-29 fighter jet to accompany the aircraft.
Protests broke out in Belarus after Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron fist for 27 years, claimed victory in a rigged election in August last year.
Monday's European Union summit in Brussels was pre-planned, but Michel's spokesman Barend Leyts confirmed that the Belarus question would come up and "that possible sanctions will be discussed at this occasion".
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry summoned Belarus's top representative in the country to demand the immediate release of all passengers and crew, it said in a statement.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Twitter the flight was forced down and Pratasevich was arrested in an "unprecedented event".
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The flight path of the fated Athens to Vilnius flight which was forced to land in Belarus.
The government in Ireland, where Ryanair is headquartered, described the incident as "absolutely unacceptable", while North Atlantic Treaty Organisation called it "dangerous" and demanded an worldwide investigation.
Mr Pratasevich, who had fled the country for Poland, faces charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Belarus previous year designated Nexta an extremist organisation and has called for his extradition from Poland, where the channel's editorial team is based. It and its sister channel NEXTA Live have close to two million subscribers.
Opposition leaders have slammed the incident, saying the plane was forced to land in Minsk as a pretext to detain Protasevich, the founder of Polish-based NEXTA, an opposition news outlet.
The opposition says that Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after the election, was the true victor of last year's presidential vote.
She stood against Mr Lukashenko in presidential elections, which she says she would have won had they been free and fair.
Minsk diverted a passenger flight and arrested opposition activist Roman Protasevich.
Ryanair said the flight's crew had been notified by Belarus air traffic control of "a potential security threat on board" and were instructed to divert to Minsk, the "nearest" airport.