President Alexander Lukashenko dismisses global outcry over incident in his first public statement since diverting a Ryanair flight to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during a meeting with parliamentarians, members of the Constitutional Commission and representatives of public administration bodies, in Minsk, Belarus.
A defiant President Alexander Lukashenko has defended Belarus's diversion of a European flight and arrest of a dissident on board, lashing out at critics at home and overseas.
In his first public statement since the Ryanair flight was diverted and opposition journalist and activist Roman Protasevich was arrested on Sunday, Lukashenko dismissed the subsequent worldwide outcry.
"Throughout his life he fought for the truth and passed it on to people, which is why Lukashenko committed this despicable act", he said.
The Athens-to-Vilnius flight was diverted over a supposed bomb scare, with Lukashenko scrambling a MiG-29 fighter jet to accompany the aircraft.
The overflight ban has led to several cancellations of flights between Russia and Europe, after Russian authorities rejected flight plans that would have skipped Belarusian airspace.
Lukashenko on Wednesday denied that the fighter jet had forced the airliner to land, calling such claims an "absolute lie".
Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania had denied the Ryanair flight permission to land and its only option was to turn to Minsk, he said.
"Our ill-wishers at home and overseas have changed their methods of attacking the state", Lukashenko said, accusing them of crossing "red lines" and "boundaries of common sense and human morality".
"They have crossed many red lines and crossed boundaries of common sense and human morality".
Lukashenko - often dubbed "Europe's last dictator" - is facing some of the strongest worldwide pressure of his 26-year rule of ex-Soviet Belarus.
Later on today he protested on the Belarusian border along with dozens of Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there was no reason to disbelieve Lukashenko's version of events.
The Belarusian opposition has called for stronger measures.
Belarus has released a transcript of communications between Minsk air traffic control and the Ryanair flight, in which the crew was told "you have a bomb on board" and urged to land in Minsk.
He appeared in a video on Monday in which he confessed to helping to organise mass unrest, a charge that could land him in jail for 15 years. His father said the confession was coerced.
Sapega, a 23-year-old law student at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Lithuania, appeared in another video on Tuesday saying she worked for a Telegram channel that disclosed information about Belarusian law enforcement.
Her lawyer said she had been remanded in pre-trial detention for two months and Russian Federation confirmed she was being detained as a criminal suspect.
The statement says the officials "condemn in the strongest terms the unprecedented action by the Belarusian authorities".
Protasevich's mother told AFP in Poland that she had not slept since he was arrested.
For Natalia Protasevich, the past few days have been traumatic.
"They're going to kill him in there".
We will enhance our efforts, including through further sanctions as appropriate, to promote accountability for the actions of the Belarusian authorities.
"I want you to relay our appeal everywhere, throughout the world, to government representatives, to European Union countries, to European Union leaders, to US leaders: I am appealing, I am begging, help me free my son", his mother Natalia told journalists in Warsaw, visibly moved.
Many protest leaders - including now-exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who claimed victory in the August vote - fled the country, and the demonstrations have dwindled.
Lukashenko is scheduled to visit Russian Federation on Friday to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Sunday's flight diversion was a dramatic escalation, with EU leaders accusing Minsk of essentially hijacking a European flight to arrest 26-year-old opposition activist Roman Protasevich.