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Belarus strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko, who diverted a passenger airplane carrying a journalist and government dissident on board this week, defended his actions Wednesday as necessary to quell a bomb threat, AP reports.
Why it matters: The incident, which EU leaders have called a "hijacking," has drawn international condemnation and further isolated Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator."
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Driving the news: EU nations have banned Belarusian airlines, told European airlines not to fly over the country, and promised more economic sanctions. Lukashenko described the retaliation as a “hybrid war” to “strangle” Belarus.
“Our ill-wishers outside and inside the country have changed their methods of attacking the state,” Lukashenko said Wednesday. “That’s why they switched from organizing riots to trying to strangle us.”
“I acted in a lawful way, protecting people in line with international rules,” Lukashenko claimed.
Catch up quick: The plane was in Belarusian airspace headed to Lithuania when pilots were told to land in Minsk — and escorted there by a Belarusian fighter jet — because of “a potential security threat on board," according a statement from Ryanair.
Journalist Raman Protasevich, a prominent opposition figure living in exile, reportedly told other passengers he was facing the death penalty before he was arrested during the stop. No bomb was found on board.
Lukashenko said it was an “absolute lie” that the fighter jet forced the Ryanair plane to land.
The CEO of Ryanair described the incident as a "state-sponsored hijacking."
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