Belarus leader: Plane diversion protected passengers from possible bomb

Belarus leader: Plane diversion protected passengers from possible bomb
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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the face of international condemnation is doubling down on his claims that the interception of a flight over the country was caused by a bomb threat and not an attempt to arrest a dissident.

Lukashenko, in an address to the Belarusian Parliament, maintained he “acted lawfully and was protecting the people according to all international rules” before condemning the international community’s response to his detention of Rama Pratasevich, a 26-year-old opposition activist and journalist who was aboard the intercepted flight.

“As we predicted, ill-wishers from outside and inside the country have changed their ways of attacking our country,” Lukashenko said, according to state media. “They crossed many red lines, crossed the boundaries of common sense and human morality.”

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The defense marked the latest development after Lukashenko sparked an international firestorm.

Belarusian authorities reportedly called in a bomb threat to force a Ryanair flight traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land once it was in Belarusian airspace, deploying a fighter jet to bring the plane to ground. Pratasevich was promptly detained upon his arrest, and no bomb was found on the flight. 

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, with many critics labeling him Europe’s last dictator. Protests erupted across the country after his disputed win in the country's presidential election last year, but a harsh crackdown by police quelled the demonstrations. 

Pratasevich, who had fled the country due to concerns of a government response over his activism, was seen in a video released by Belarus with what appeared to be bruises on his faces. In the video, he admitted to organizing protests in the country.

The international community has condemned the arrest, with the European Union already imposing additional economic sanctions on Belarus and President BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE suggesting he could follow suit

"I join the many calls for an international investigation to ascertain the complete facts of the case. I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and have asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations," Biden said in a statement Monday.

"For months, the Belarusian people have made their voices heard—demanding democracy, respect for human rights, and the preservation of fundamental freedoms," he added. "I applaud the courage and determination of Belarusians fighting for basic rights, including journalists like Raman Pratasevich and opposition leaders like Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her husband, Syarhey Tsikhanouski. The United States will continue to stand with the people of Belarus in their struggle."