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Senators urge Biden to prohibit US flights over Belarus after ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ of dissident

  • Two US Senators sent a letter Monday urging President Joe Biden to prohibit US flights over Belarus.
  • The request comes after Belarus arrested Roman Protasevich after forcing the flight he was on to land.
  • The letter was signed by Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The “state-sponsored hijacking” of a civilian flight in order to arrest a dissident activist should prompt President Joe Biden to ban US airlines from flying over Belarus, two US senators said in a letter on Monday.

Over the weekend, authorities in Belarus forced the landing of a Ryanair flight — sending up a fighter jet and claiming a possible terrorist threat — in order to arrest Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old journalist and critic of the authoritarian regime led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarusian authorities have since posted a video of Protasevich that his allies say appears to have been delivered under duress, Reuters reported.

President Biden condemned the arrest in a statement Monday evening, calling it “a direct affront to international norms.” Biden said he asked advisers “to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible.”

In the meantime, Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, want the president to keep US flights away from Eastern European nation.

“In an effort to keep passengers and crew safe, we urge you to prohibit all US airlines from entering Belarusian airspace,” they wrote in a joint missive. The US has imposed a similar prohibition on flights over North Korea, the senators note. “We must protect innocent passengers from despotic regimes and stand in solidarity with dissidents who are being targeted.”

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has led Belarus since 1994, was ostensibly reelected last year. But that vote has been widely criticized as fraudulent, with the European Union refusing to recognize the results.

The vote was followed by widespread protests in Belarus that were brutally repressed, with authorities detaining thousands, “many of them tortured or otherwise ill-treated,” according to Amnesty International. Belarus accuses Protasevich of orchestrating the protests to overthrow the government.

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