Belarus is forcing Ryanair to go down to catch an opposition blogger

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has ordered a plane carrying Roman Protasevich, en route to Lithuania, to land in Minsk.

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a Ryanair plane carrying an opposition blogger and bound for Lithuania to enter Belarus's capital Minsk on Sunday and detained him on arrival, officials and rights activists said.

Lawmakers detained activist Roman Protasevich and put him on the wanted list following last year's street protests following the election in which Lukashenko won a landslide victory.

The plane, which flew from Belarus from Athens to Vilnius, almost landed in Lithuania when it changed course and was escorted to Minsk amid reports of explosives, according to an online flight tracker with BelTA.

No explosives were found, BelTA said.

Hundreds of thousands crossed Minsk as the opposition party issued a decision on Belarus's president

Belarus's organized crime control unit also reported that Protasevich had been arrested but removed the statement from his Telegram channel.

Ryanair and the Lithuanian foreign ministry were not immediately available for comment.

Lukashenko himself ordered a military plane to take Ryanair Boeing to Minsk, state media BelTA reported.A Telegram channel that has become one of the main news sources about the protests in Belarus. It is hostile to Lukashenko and helps to coordinate protests.

He has been in power since 1994, and Lukashenko launched a violent campaign in the 2020 street protests. An estimated 35,000 people have been arrested since August, human rights groups say. Many have received prison sentences. Authorities say more than 1,000 criminal cases have been filed.

A Lithuanian airline spokesman told Reuters that the plane, which was supposed to land in Vilnius at 1100 GMT, had been transferred to Minsk due to a dispute between staff and passenger.

The plane was expected to land in Vilnius from Minsk at 1500 GMT, he said.

Protasevich is one of the founders of the opposition news service NEXTA, a Telegram channel that has become one of the main news sources about the protests in Belarus. It is hostile to Lukashenko and helps to coordinate protests.

Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, Lukashenko's main rival in the last election, said Belarus authorities "risked the safety of its passengers and all public airlines in order to punish the man who organized the largest independent Telegram station in Belarus."