Belarus plane: Lukashenko hits back at condemnation of journalist’s arrest

The president of Belarus has said his critics are “strangling” his country and waging “hybrid warfare”.

Alexander Lukashenko told parliament common sense had been abandoned and “many red lines” crossed as Western countries imposed sanctions on Belarus.

He was defending the move to forcibly divert a Ryanair plane, which was flying from Greece to Lithuania, to land in Belarus on Sunday.

A Belarusian journalist who is a critic of Mr Lukashenko was arrested.

Roman Protasevich, 26, was placed on a terrorism list last year and says he fears the death penalty. Belarus is the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union that still passes and carries out death sentences.

His Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was also detained. They both now face criminal charges.

Videos of the pair have been released, appearing to show them confessing to crimes. However, it is likely they are both speaking under duress.

What we know and what we don’t

Who is Roman Protasevich?

Who is Sofia Sapega?

Mr Lukashenko’s comments were the first he has made in public about the incident, which has drawn Western outrage.

European leaders have accused Belarus of hijacking the plane, but the president has insisted he acted lawfully when he ordered its diversion.

Belarus claims the flight had been diverted because of a bomb threat from Hamas, but the Palestinian militant group denied any involvement. Mr Lukashenko also said the threat had originated in Switzerland, but the Swiss authorities said they knew nothing of it.

Mr Lukashenko insisted the bomb threat was real, and that the diversion of the Ryanair flight had taken place near a nuclear power plant.

“I had to protect people, I was thinking about the country’s security,” he said, adding that reports that a fighter jet was sent to force the plane to land was an “absolute lie”.

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