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US says it will impose sanctions on Belarus after plane diversion

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A Ryanair aircraft, which was diverted to Belarus, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius
A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich and diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius Airport in Vilnius, Lithuania on May 23, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Andrius Sytas)

(Updated: )

WASHINGTON: The White House announced on Friday (May 28) it will impose sanctions on Belarus after it diverted a European flight and arrested a dissident on board.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki, in a statement outlining the punitive measures, called the May 23 Ryanair flight diversion and arrest of Belarus opposition journalist and activist Roman Protasevich “a direct affront to international norms”.

In addition to measures already announced in recent weeks, Washington said that it was working with the European Union on a list of targeted sanctions against key members of the regime of Belarus’s strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.

READ: G7 countries call for ‘immediate and unconditional’ release of Belarus journalist

Economic sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises, reimposed in April following a crackdown on pro-democracy protests, will come into effect on Jun 3.

Additionally, “the Treasury Department will develop for the President’s review a new Executive Order that will provide the United States increased authorities to impose sanctions on elements” of the regime, and “those that support corruption, the abuse of human rights, and attacks on democracy”, Psaki said.

Western outcry over Belarus’s move to divert the plane – by scrambling a military jet – has seen the European Union urging EU-based carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace.

READ: Singapore Airlines reroutes flights to avoid Belarus airspace after forced landing of Ryanair plane

In addition to the sanctions, the White House also issued a “Do Not Travel” warning for Belarus to US citizens, and warned US passenger planes to “exercise extreme caution” if considering flying over Belarusian airspace.

The White House confirmed that the US Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was investigating the incident in cooperation with European counterparts.

Psaki called on Lukashenko to “allow a credible international investigation into the events of May 23, immediately release all political prisoners, and enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with the leaders of the democratic opposition and civil society groups” leading to a free and fair presidential election.

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