Belavia Head Calls EU Response To Ryanair Diversion 'Despicable'.

The head of Belarus's national air carrier has said the EU countries' imposition of airspace restrictions in response to Minsk's Ryanair diversion last week is "despicable," as fallout continues over what many regard as a "state hijacking" to nab a Belarusian dissident journalist.

Many of Belarus's neighbors and some other Western states have barred Belavia from overflights since the May 23 incident, in which a dubious bomb threat was cited in ordering a MiG 29 fighter jet to divert an Athens-to-Vilnius flight to Minsk.

Belavia director Ihar Charhinets said via Facebook that such moves exhibited "fascist perversity" and the gradual closure of air corridors showed "they are mocking us," according to TASS.

Belavia is wholly state-owned with about 30 aircraft and flew to nearly 60 destinations before the bans were announced.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has dominated Belarus for nearly three decades and is fighting for his political life amid unprecedented protests since a reelection claim in August, keeps a tight grip on all of the country's key industries.

The United States has already levied sanctions in response to the forced Ryanair diversion and has called Belarusian authorities' actions a "false pretense" to allow them to detain Raman Pratasevich, an opposition activist and journalist.

Charhinets accused European governments of hastiness for imposing restrictions before the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) could investigate fully.

"All this is happening before an investigation of the incident, for which there may be some guilty parties, but Belavia is definitely not among them," he wrote. "They punish innocent Belavia, without even beginning an investigation. It's despicable."

The ICAO has said Belarus's forced diversion could have violated international air-travel rules under the so-called Chicago Convention.

Many countries have also strongly advised airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

The European Union is still weighing its official responses, with a chorus of calls for toughening existing sanctions on Belarus and more, travel-specific strictures including banning Belavia from EU airports.

Based on reporting by Reuters

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