French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is in favour of inviting Belarus opposition politicians to next month’s G7 summit, if the British hosts agree. The proposal comes against a background of international outrage over Belarus’s diversion of a Ryanair flight on Sunday and the arrest of a dissident journalist on board.
On Tuesday, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called on the G7 and the US to ramp up pressure on Belarus’s leader Alexander Lukashenko.
She asked for the Belarusian opposition to be invited to next month’s G7 summit in Britain, an initiative that sources close to France’s President Emmanuel Macron said Paris supported.
President Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying blogger Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega.
The forced landing of the plane in the Belarus capital Minsk over a supposed bomb threat led several EU-based airlines, including Air France, to opt out of flying over Belarusian airspace.
European leaders have cut air links with Belarus, and have warned they will adopt further “targeted economic sanctions” against the Belarusian authorities to add to the 88 regime figures and seven companies already on a blacklist over a crackdown on opposition.
Biden condemns ‘affront’ to international law
Belarusian state television has broadcast a 30-second video of Protasevich, who had been living between Lithuania and Poland, confirming that he was in prison in Minsk and “confessing” to charges of organising mass unrest.
The footage showed Protasevich — who could face 15 years in jail — with dark markings visible on his forehead, saying he was being treated “according to the law”.
US President Joe Biden criticised the forced diversion of the plane and the arrest of Protasevich as “a direct affront to international norms”.
“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,” Biden said, in a White House statement.
The forced landing of an airliner flying between EU nations has refocused attention on the festering political crisis in Belarus.
Western leaders have accused Belarusian authorities of hijacking a European plane, while Minsk claimed it had reacted to secure the flight after receiving a bomb threat.
“We will not tolerate any attempt to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians,” EU chief Charles Michel said.
Belarus has insisted it acted legally over the grounding of the Ryanair jet, accusing the West of making “unfounded accusations” for political reasons.
ts air force chief said the plane’s captain had decided to land in Belarus “without outside interference” and that the pilot could have chosen to go to Ukraine or Poland.
A senior Belarusian transport official said the authorities received a letter claiming to be from the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas threatening to blow up the plane over Vilnius unless the EU renounced support for Israel.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed Minsk’s explanations as “completely implausible” and the EU demanded a probe by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The ICAO, a UN agency, is to meet on Thursday.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres backed calls for a “full, transparent and independent investigation into this disturbing incident”.