EU expands sanctions and sets ban on Belarus airlines

Photo: EPA

Belarus carriers will receive a ban from flying over the territory of EU, Reuters reported. In addition the airlines will be restricted from access to the European airports, the bloc announced as the country's exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called for more joint Western sanctions and new restrictions. The EU decision is part of planned punitive measures against Belarus in response to Minsk forced landing of commercial airplane on 23 May.

Belarus used a threat of war plane to force the grounding of the civilian plane to arrest an opposition journalist. The move requires EU member states "to deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers," EU governments said in a statement. The ban also includes marketing carriers, which sell seats on planes operated by another airline as part of a code-share agreement. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a safety directive saying all EU aircraft should also avoid Belarus air space unless in an emergency. Global airline industry body IATA criticised the decision, which will make flights to Asia longer and more costly. However, the EU and NATO believe the forced landing of the flight from Athens to Vilnius to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend amounted to state piracy and must not be tolerated. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said Protasevich was plotting a rebellion, and accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him.

National carrier Belavia flies to some 20 airports in Europe including in Germany, France, Italy and Austria.

Speaking in Poland, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled Belarus for Lithuania following disputed presidential elections in August 2020, said that G7 should work together to impose new sanctions. EU governments say they are looking at targeting sectors that play a central role in Belarus' economy, to inflict real punishment on Lukashenko. They could include bond sales, the oil sector and key export potash. However, the bloc is expected to agree by 21 June a smaller sanctions list on individuals and two entities as a quick, intermediary response, according to diplomats.

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