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UK orders airlines to avoid Belarus airspace after 'state-sponsored hijack' of flight

The British government has instructed airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace after the "state-sponsored hijack" of a Ryanair flight.

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The flight was rerouted to Minsk yesterday, at which point the journalist was detained. Source: Breakfast

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Twitter he had instructed Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines not to fly over Belarus to ensure passenger safety following the arrest of a journalist and prominent critic of the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.

"Following the forced diversion of a @Ryanair aircraft to Minsk yesterday, I’ve instructed @UK_CAA to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe [sic].

"I have also suspended Belavia’s operating permit," he added.

At the same time, speaking in the Commons, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called for the immediate release of journalist Roman Protasevich and other political prisoners in the former Soviet state.

The call comes as EU leaders are set to discuss toughening its existing sanctions against Belarus this morning (NZT) to what the union’s executive called a "hijacking" and the US state department said was a "shocking act".

Fears are growing for the safety of 26-year-old Protasevich, who was arrested after the Ryanair flight he was travelling on from Athens to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk following reports of a false bomb threat.