EU leaders agreed on Monday night to apply sanctions against Belarus and to ban aviation over the country’s airspace.
In a statement adopted by EU heads of states and government, the bloc strongly condemned the forced landing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk and the detention of Belarussian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his partner.
While calling for the immediate release of the couple, EU leaders gave the green light to prepare additional sanctions against those responsible for the incident that endangered aviation safety and the lives of European citizens.
On one hand, the EU will expand its sanctions lists adopted in October in response to the regime’s violent action against protesters contesting presidential elections.
The blacklist currently features 88 individuals, including President Alexander Lukashenko and seven entities, banning their entry to the bloc and freezing their assets in the EU.
On the other hand, the EU leaders decided to start the preparations of new restrictive measures targeting specific areas of the Belarussian economy.
The leaders also called on European airlines to avoid Belarus’ airspace and initiated the legal work to close to EU’s airspace and airports to Belarusian airlines.
In a separate statement concluding the first day of the summit, EU heads of states and governments condemned "the illegal, provocative and disruptive Russian activities against the EU, its Member States and beyond."
At the same time, they mandated EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to draft a report on the future of the bloc’s relationship with Russia.
During their talks on Belarus and Russia, EU leaders were asked to leave their mobile phones outside the conference room, an EU official told Anadolu Agency.
The leaders’ conclusions also welcomed the recent cease-fire in the Israeli-Palestine conflict and stressed the bloc’s commitment towards a two-state solution.
On the second day of the summit, they will discuss the latest development of the bloc’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as long-term plans on climate protection.
On Sunday, citing a “bomb threat,” a Belarusian MIG-29 fighter jet forced a Ryanair plane passing through Belarus' airspace to land, and then detained passenger Pratasevich, a journalist wanted for his involvement in “terrorist incident.”
Protasevich is the founder of the social media news channel NEXTA, which played a major role in protests last summer demanding the resignation of Lukashenko after the contested Aug. 9 elections.
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