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EU's flight ban on Belarus endangering passengers safety: Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Belarus authorities arrested dissident figure Roman Protasevich on board a Ryanair plane, which had been flying from Greece to Lithuania, after diverting the aircraft to Minsk. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has decried the European Union for “endangering” the passengers after the EU told the bloc's airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace in response to the grounding of an intra-EU flight in Minsk.

"What the West has done by introducing a ban on flights through Belarusian airspace for political reasons is completely irresponsible and endangers the safety of passengers," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook on Friday.

The European Union banned Belarusian airlines from using the airspace of the 27-nation bloc and called on air carriers based in the EU to avoid flying over the country after Belarusian law enforcement forces detained dissident figure Roman Protasevich, who was among the passengers of the plane which was diverted to the Minsk airport on Sunday.

On May 23, a Ryanair passenger plane heading from Greece to Lithuania had to make an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport, following a reported bomb scare that proved to be a false threat later.

A MiG-29 fighter was scrambled to escort the airliner, giving rise to initial reports that the airliner had been forced to land in Minsk.

Belarus released a transcript of communications between Minsk air traffic control and the Ryanair flight, in which the crew is told "you have a bomb on board" and urged to land in Minsk.

Belarusian law enforcement forces detained Protasevich, the co-founder of a Telegram channel that is viewed as extremist by the Belarus government, as well as a female companion identified as Sofia Sapega, after the plane was diverted to the Minsk airport.

Belarus’ state TV said on Monday that Protasevich had confessed to organizing “riots.”

"Politics in the European Union today is increasingly devoid of common sense," Zakharova’s post said.

"It is time for Brussels to learn how to take effective measures to protect citizens against real, not imaginary, threats," Zakharova added.

Following the EU ban, several European flights to Russia were cancelled-- the latest of which took place on Friday morning when an Air France flight from Paris said its flight was scrapped by Russian authorities -- but the Kremlin attributed the flight disruptions to “technical reasons”.

"Aviation authorities will give the necessary explanations, but these are technical reasons," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday, noting that the measures were taken to ensure aviation safety.

"Of course we would like to avoid such situations but since they have emerged from a decision of the EU... such technical mishaps are unavoidable," Peskov said.

He added that "there are no reasons here for more problems" with Brussels.

Russia's Federal Air Transport Agency said that changes of previously approved routes could result in delays in obtaining arrival, departure or transit permits.

"The increase in time it takes to complete the procedures is due to the increase in the number of requests from airlines," the agency said in a statement on Friday.

In a show of support for Minsk, Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to host his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi later Friday.

The European Union (EU) has been at odds with Belarus since the August presidential election, which Lukashenko won.

Lukashenko’s main political opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, rejected the official results of the vote and claimed there had been voter fraud. Western governments came out in her support, repeating the allegations of vote rigging.

The EU announced on September 15 that it did not recognize Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus.

Lukashenko has rejected allegations that his government tampered with votes, blaming Western countries for orchestrating the demonstrations which followed the vote and conspiring to oust his government, which has secured a lifeline $1.5 billion loan from Moscow.

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