Belarusian President slams Western response to forced plane diversion

MINSK (DW): The Belarusian leader said “ill-wishers” are “trying to strangle Belarus” in his first speech since a commercial flight was intercepted and a critical blogger arrested.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko hit out at Western powers on Wednesday, saying that his country’s “ill-wishers” are “trying to strangle Belarus.”

It’s the first time Lukashenko has spoken in public since a Ryanair plane was diverted over the weekend and dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich and law student Sofia Sapega were taken into custody.

Alexander Lukashenko wearing a suit and tie: Lukashenko accused Western powers of crossing © Valery Sharifulin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance Lukashenko accused Western powers of crossing

What did Lukashenko say?

In his speech, Lukashenko said that “attacks” on Belarus have crossed “red lines.”

“As we predicted, our ill-wishers at home and abroad have changed their methods of attacking the state. They have crossed many red lines and crossed boundaries of common sense and human morality,” Lukashenko said as he addressed members of parliament, the Belta state-run news agency reported.

He also said that a bomb threat, which Belarusian authorities said was behind the plane’s landing in Minsk, came from Switzerland, and that outside forces were waging a “hybrid war” against the country.

What happened with the flight?

On Sunday, Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair plane to land as it was flying to Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

Upon landing in Minsk, authorities and took blogger Raman Pratasevichand his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, into custody.

Prior to his arrest, Pratasevich, a vocal critic of Lukashenko, was traveling from Greece to Lithuania.

Minsk ordered the commercial plane flying over its airspace to land, claiming a bomb was on board — an explanation German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called “completely implausible.”

The EU responded by slapping sanctions on Belarus, including a ban on Belarusian airlines using EU airspace or airports.