Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka has been increasingly resisting his iron rule in recent months, which has led to mass arrests and the withdrawal of some opposition leaders from the country. He has been in power in the former Soviet republic since 1994.
“This shocking act,” said Blinken, “which was committed by the Lukashenka regime, endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including US citizens.” Initial reports pointing to the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the aircraft are deeply worrying and warrant a thorough investigation. “
Blinken’s statement followed criticism of Lukashenka – also known as Lukashenko – by the American ambassador to Belarus and a number of congressional leaders.
“Lukashenka and his regime today again showed their contempt for the international community and its citizens,” said the US ambassador Julie Fisher tweeted.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) Joined forces with European lawmakers to condemn a conviction.
Menendez, the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was assisted by lawmakers holding similar positions in the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the United Kingdom. “We, the chairmen of the foreign affairs committees of our respective national parliaments, clearly condemn the threat of violence against a civilian plane in the sky over Belarus,” they said.
Menendez and the others condemned Belarus not only for the arrest of Protasevich, but also for the damage it could have done to everyone on the flight from Greece to Lithuania. “This reckless act put the passengers and crew in great danger. It is a reminder of the illegitimacy of the authority that claims authority in Minsk, ”they said.
They called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to prevent planes from flying over Belarus and urged NATO and the EU to sanction Belarus.
Other members of the Congress blew up Lukashenka.
“It is abhorrent to arrest an activist for simply exposing the truth of the regime-sanctioned police brutality against anti-government protests in Belarus,” said Texas MP Michael McCaul, the Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Forcing an Irish plane carrying nearly 200 innocent civilians to land to make this arrest is a tremendous affront to democratic societies around the world.”
Rep. Chris Smith (RN.J.) said this episode “should be the last straw” leading the international community to oust Lukashenka, saying “every sanction on the books must be used” to put pressure on .
“This was not only an airliner hijacking, it was an unprecedented breach of international aviation regulations,” Smith said in a statement.
Other European leaders condemned the conduct of Belarus. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the episode was “an unprecedented act of state terrorism” and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the action “outrageous and illegal”.
One of the other passengers on the flight told The Associated Press that Pratasevich had voiced fear for his life.
“I saw this Belarusian man sitting right behind us with his girlfriend.” Passenger Marius Rutkauskas said after the plane arrived in Lithuania. “He freaked out when the pilot said the plane had been diverted to Minsk. He said that the death penalty awaits him there. “
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.