Furious European Union leaders were set to consider a joint response on Monday after Belarusian authorities diverted a plane travelling between EU member states in order to arrest a prominent opposition journalist.
Roman Protasevich, who ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organise mass protests against Belarus' authoritarian president, was on board the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius when it was diverted to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, while flying over Belarus.
Belarusian flight controllers had warned the plane crew of an alleged bomb threat and ordered it to land in Minsk, and a Belarusian fighter jet was scrambled to escort the Ryanair airliner.
Shortly after the landing, the 26-year-old Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend were led out of the plane. The jet was eventually allowed to continue its flight and landed in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, hours behind schedule.
The 27 European Union leaders were set to open a two-day summit later Monday and the issue immediately shot to the top of the agenda amid united condemnation of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Many in Europe have called for tough new sanctions on Belarus.
Source: National News Agency