Estonia Belarus flight ban replaced with EU-wide equivalent
Estonia's flight ban on Belarusian airlines and aircraft has been superseded by a European Union-level restriction, meaning the domestic sanction will be lifted. The flight ban itself remains in place.
Under sanctions imposed by the EU Council in the wake of last month's virtual state hijacking of a civilian airliner by Belarusian authorities, airlines and planes from the landlocked country are not permitted to land in, take off from or fly through EU airspace, including that of Estonia, rendering the latter's own unilateral ban, imposed on May 28, redundant.
Estonia's ban was first centered on Belarus' national carrier, Belavia, but soon rolled out to all other carriers and airplanes.
Belarus' western frontier abuts on to three EU countries: Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
On the afternoon of Sunday, May 23 a Ryanair passenger jet flying from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania was forcibly diverted to Minsk airport while still in Belarusian airspace, on the pretext of a terrorist bomb threat, for which no credible evidence has subsequently been put forward. The Ryanair plane was escorted by at least one MiG-29 Belarusian air force jet, while once on the apron in Minsk, two passengers, opposition leader Roman Protesevich, along with a woman identified in the media as his partner, Sofia Sapega, a Russian national, were seized by state security forces and remain incarcerated.
Experts say separate videos released of the pair subsequently bear all the hallmarks of forced confessions extracted under duress.
Belarus had been under international scrutiny since last August's presidential election, which returned Alexander Lukashenko, effective dictator of the country, to sixth consecutive term in polls widely condemned as rigged. Violent crackdowns against dissenters have been going on ever since.
Following the Ryanair incident the Council of the European Union pledged an additional package of sanctions against Lukashenko's Belarus, which came into effect on June 4, meaning Estonia's own flight ban was no longer needed as a separate order.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte