Lithuania bars airport access to carriers flying over Belarus

A Ryanair Boeing 737-800 lands in the Vilnius International Airport, in Vilnius, Lithuania, 23 May 2021. [EPA-EFE/STRINGER]

Lithuania’s government has banned flights from departing or arriving in the country if they have used, or plan to use, the Belarusian airspace, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė announced on Monday (24 May).

The prime minister said the decision was made in response to the “airliner’s hijacking operation” on Sunday. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also called on EU member states to follow suit.

The ban will take effect at 00:00 UTC (03:00 Vilnius time) on Tuesday.

“Yesterday’s incident made it very clear that, unfortunately, even our citizens are not safe while flying in the neighbouring country’s airspace, and we can’t be sure that an aircraft won’t be forced to land for one reason or another,” Transport Minister Marius Skuodis told the cabinet.

Lithuania expects an international response to Belarus’ hijacking of a Vilnius-bound civilian aircraft, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.

“Lithuania can take some steps on its own, but we expect the main response to be an international one,” Landsbergis told reporters.

“We believe an EU-wide decision would be a more sustainable response,” the minister said, adding that the issue has to be raised in “all available formats”, including the European Council, and the Foreign Affairs Council’s meeting in Lisbon at the end of this week.

Global aviation stunned by Belarus jetliner diversion

The United Nations’ aviation agency said it was “strongly concerned” by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair jetliner in Belarus, as global airlines called for an investigation into Sunday’s rare incident.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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