lukashenka

Reports: U.S. To Restrict Air Travel To Belarus Over Ryanair Incident

Reports say the United States will take steps to restrict air travel to Belarus in its latest response to the forced diversion of a passenger flight to Minsk last month that allowed for the arrest of a dissident journalist and his girlfriend.

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Bloomberg quoted two unidentified people familiar with the plans as saying that the U.S. Department of Transportation plans to announce the restrictions as soon as June 29.

The department is to issue an order prohibiting anyone in the United States from using U.S.-based travel services to purchase airline tickets to Belarus, Reuters said, citing a source familiar with the order.

The action is seen as a symbolic move since passenger traffic is limited between the United States and Belarus.

The regime of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been under international pressure since it launched a brutal crackdown on the political opposition and the independent media in the wake of a disputed election in August 2020.

The protesters have said that election was rigged, while the European Union, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize the official results of the vote and do not consider Lukashenka to be the country’s legitimate leader.

The crisis hit a new level on May 23 when Belarusian authorities scrambled a military jet to escort an Athens-to-Vilnius Ryanair flight to land in Minsk in what many countries regarded as a “state hijacking.” The plane was diverted just before it left Belarusian airspace. After it landed, law enforcement immediately arrested opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, his Russian girlfriend.

The EU, the United States, Britain, and Canada have slapped sanctions on Belarus over the diversion of the Ryanair flight, including asset freezes and visa bans imposed against dozens of officials, lawmakers, and ministers from Lukashenka’s administration and his family members, as well as Belarusian entities.

The U.S. administration has also announced sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises, while the EU last week imposed restrictions on Minsk’s main export industries and access to finance.

The EU has also denied permission to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers to land in, take off from, or overfly EU territories.

Previous rounds of Western sanctions also hit individual institutions and Lukashenka’s inner circle over the brutal crackdown on the opposition by the Belarusian authorities in the wake of last year’s disputed presidential election.

With reporting by Reuters, RFE and Bloomberg

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