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U.S. imposes sanctions, travel warning to Belarus over diverted flight

A Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, with Belarus' opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich onboard, was diverted and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday. Photo by  EPA-EFE
A Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, with Belarus' opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich onboard, was diverted and forced to land in Minsk on Sunday. Photo by  EPA-EFE

May 29 (UPI) -- The White House announced sanctions on Belarus and a warning not to travel to the country over a diverted civilian Ryanair flight.

Belarus' Lukashenko regime forced the commercial jet headed from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk on Sunday and arrested Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich upon landing. Belarusian aviation authorities said the flight was diverted to Minsk due to a bomb threat, but the White House said in the statement Friday night the plane was diverted over "false pretenses."

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"Belarus' forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight under false pretenses, traveling between two member states of the European Union and the subsequent removal and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist, are a direct affront to international norms," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in the statement.

"These events took place amid an escalating wave of repression by the Lukashenka regime against the aspirations of the people of Belarus for democracy and human rights."

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Psaki went on to layout the repercussions for Sunday's forced take down of the Ryanair jet, which she said was accompanied by the regime's "continuing attack on fundamental freedoms."

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Among them, the United States has joined the United Nations and other international diplomatic, trade and aviation leaders, in public condemnation of Sunday's interception of the civilian flight.

The U.S. Department of State also issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel warning urging U.S. citizens not to travel to Belarus.

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The Federal Aviation Administration has also warned U.S. passenger carriers "to exercise extreme caution when considering flying in Belarusian airspace."

The United States will also on Thursday begin to reimpose sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises, which will block U.S. citizens from engaging in transactions with these entities, according to the statement.

The White House said it is working with the European Union and other allies to develop a list of targeted sanctions against key figures in the regime "associated with ongoing abuses of human rights and corruption, the falsification of the 2020 election, and the events of May 23."

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The Department of Justice and the FBI have been working with European counterparts to investigate the incident, according to the statement.

"We take these measures, together with our partners and allies, to hold the regime accountable for its actions and to demonstrate our commitment to the aspirations of the people of Belarus," Psaki said in the the statement. "We call on Lukashenka to allow a credible international investigation into the events of May 23, immediately release all political prisoners, and enter into a comprehensive and genuine political dialogue with the leaders of the democratic opposition and civil society groups that leads to the conduct of free and fair presidential elections."

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