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World

Lukashenko defiant as UN Security Council to meet over Belarus

  • A 30-second video of Protasevich was broadcast by state television late Monday, in which he confirmed that he was in prison in Minsk and "confessed" to charges of organising mass unrest.
26 May, 2021

MINSK: A defiant President Lukashenko will address Belarus' parliament Wednesday as international pressure over the country's diversion of an airliner in order to arrest a dissident grows, with the UN Security Council set to meet behind closed doors later.

The speech to parliament will be the first time the Belarusian leader has spoken in public since Sunday's rerouting of a Ryanair flight to Minsk and the subsequent arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

After weathering a wave of protests and Western sanctions last year, Lukashenko is facing renewed pressure over the incident, with Western leaders demanding Protasevich's release, and the European Union cutting air links with the increasingly isolated nation.

But a diplomat told AFP it was unlikely the Security Council would agree on a collective statement at Wednesday's meeting, because Belarus' unwavering supporter Russia was expected to be in opposition.

Moscow has dismissed the outrage over the arrest, saying Belarus was acting reasonably and within the law when the plane was diverted.

The Belarusian transport ministry on Tuesday released a transcript of communications between Minsk air traffic control and the Ryanair flight, in which the crew was told "you have a bomb on board" and urged it to land in Minsk.

The claim of a genuine bomb scare has been dismissed by Western leaders.

'They're going to kill him'

Speaking to AFP on Tuesday, Protasevich's mother said she had not slept since her son and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested after the Athens-to-Vilnius flight landed in Minsk.

"I'm asking, I'm begging, I'm calling on the whole international community to save him," Natalia Protasevich said, weeping. "They're going to kill him in there!"

Protasevich, 26, was a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram channel, which helped organise the protests last year that were the biggest challenge to Lukashenko's long rule.

He had been living between Poland and Lithuania.

His parents said they think their son might now be in a detention centre run by the secret service, still known as the KGB.

"The lawyer tried to see him today but she was turned down, she could not see him. We still don't know if he is in there, what his condition is, how he is feeling," said his father Dmitry.

A 30-second video of Protasevich was broadcast by state television late Monday, in which he confirmed that he was in prison in Minsk and "confessed" to charges of organising mass unrest.

With dark markings visible on his forehead, he said he was being treated "according to the law".

"He would never speak like that. Those were not his words... he was reading something out that he was told to read out," he said.

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