Sun, 20 Jun 2021

MINSK -- A European Union ban on Belarusian carriers accessing EU airports and flying through EU airspace has taken effect.

The EU imposed the ban on June 4 in response to Minsk's forced diversion of a passenger flight last month and the arrest of a dissent journalist.

The 27 member states are "required to deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers," the EU said in a statement.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.

Enforcement of the EU ban will fall on member state governments. Several EU members have already implemented such a ban.

Belarusian national carrier Belavia said in a statement on June 4 that it has received permission to operate flights to Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and will begin service five times a week -- Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays -- on June 10.

The airline also will add four flights to Istanbul beginning June 12, increasing its service to two flights daily from the current 10 times a week, and from June 15 will double the number of flights to the Black Sea city of Batumi, Georgia, from seven to 14, the airline said. Also from June 15, the airline plans to increase flights to Tbilisi from seven to 11 times a week.

Before the EU ban, Belavia operated flights between Belarus and some 20 airports in Europe.

The ban also includes marketing carriers, which sell seats on planes operated by another airline.

SEE ALSO: Tearful 'Confession' By Belarusian Journalist Sparks Fresh Outcry Over His Treatment

The EU announced a series of punitive measures following Belarus's scrambling of a fighter jet to force the landing on May 23 of a Ryanair flight carrying opposition activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich. He and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who was also on board the flight, were immediately arrested.

The plane diversion came amid a sweeping crackdown on the opposition by the regime of authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994. The country has seen unprecedented pro-democracy protests following a disputed August 2020 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged and many Western nations have refused to acknowledge.

EU member states have called on the European Council to adopt sanctions against Belarusian individuals and entities, as well as targeted economic sanctions.

The bloc has also recommended all EU-based carriers avoid flying over Belarus.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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