Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the United States "strongly condemns" Belarus for forcing a Ryanair flight carrying a wanted opposition activist from Greece to Lithuania to land in the Belarusian capital Minsk.
The United States "strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich in Minsk. We demand his immediate release," Blinken said in a statement, using an alternative spelling of the activist's name.
"This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including US citizens.
"Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation," he said.
Belarusian state television reported that Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old opposition blogger exiled in Poland, had been detained in Minsk after flight FR4978 was diverted from its Athens-to-Vilnius route, ostensibly over a security scare.
After finally landing in Vilnius several hours after the scheduled time of arrival -- without Protasevich -- some passengers described seeing the blogger looking nervous as the flight was diverted to Belarus.
Minsk's airport released a statement earlier saying the plane had to make an emergency landing there at 1215 GMT following a bomb scare.
President Alexander Lukashenko's press service said on its own Telegram channel that he had given the order to divert the flight and had ordered a Mig-29 fighter jet to accompany the plane.
Blinken added that the United States stands "with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a free, democratic, and prosperous future and support their call for the regime to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Source: National News Agency