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Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat condemns 'act of piracy' after detention of Belarus opposition activist Roman Protasevich

Kent MP Tom Tugendhat has joined the chorus of condemnation following the arrest of a Belarus opposition activist after the Ryanair flight he was travelling on was diverted to land in the country.

The Tonbridge and Malling MP, who is chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, joined counterparts from the US, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic in condemning the action as "an act of piracy" and calling for the suspension of all overflights.

Tom Tugendhat called the arrest an 'act of piracy'
Tom Tugendhat called the arrest an 'act of piracy'

"This act of state terror and kidnapping is a threat to all those who travel in Europe and beyond. It cannot be allowed to stand," they said in a joint statement.

Belarus state media said the aircraft - which was travelling from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius - was re-routed to Minsk following a bomb threat.

However, opposition groups said it was an operation by Belarus special services to "hijack" the flight so they could arrest activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was "alarmed" by the actions of the Belarus government of President Alexander Lukashenko, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Belarus state media said Mr Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the flight he was on to Minsk after a bomb threat was received while it was over Belarus territory.

Officials later said no explosives had been found on board while the deputy air force commander said the plane's crew made the decision to land in the Belarus capital.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the International Civil Aviation Organisation to open an investigation into what happened.

"It is absolutely obvious that this is an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Roman Protasevich," she said in a statement.

"Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety."

Belarus endured months of protests last year after hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against elections which gave Mr Lukashenko a sixth term in office amid widespread allegations the result was rigged.

Police cracked down hard, detaining around 30,000 people with many suffering beatings while they were in custody.

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