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Belarus forces plane to land, arrests journalist, sparking outrage

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(Last Updated On: May 24, 2021)

Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and flagged what turned out to be a false bomb alert to force a Ryanair plane to land on Sunday and then detained an opposition-minded journalist who was on board, drawing condemnation from Europe and the United States.

In what was described by some EU leaders as a hijacking, the passenger plane flying from Athens to Lithuania was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, escorted there by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet. On its landing, authorities took journalist Roman Protasevich into custody, Reuters reported.

Protasevich had his head in his hands and was shaking when he realised the flight was headed for Minsk, Lithuania’s Delfi news outlet said, quoting a passenger. Later, as he was led away, according to the report, he remarked: “I’ll get the death penalty here.” Reuters could not verify the report.

The 26-year-old journalist worked for Poland-based online news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year via the Telegram messenger app at a time when it was hard for foreign media to do so, Reuters reported.

Protasevich who now works for a different Telegram channel called Belamova, is wanted in Belarus on extremism charges and stands accused of organising mass riots and of inciting social hatred, allegations he denies.

Data from the flightradar24.com website showed the plane was diverted just two minutes before it was due to cross into Lithuanian airspace. After seven hours on the ground, the plane took off and finally landed in Vilnius where Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte was waiting to meet the passengers, Reuters reported.

As European officials threatened new sanctions on Belarus, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the forced landing and arrest a “shocking act,” demanded Protasevich’s immediate release and said President Joe Biden’s administration was “coordinating with our partners on next steps.”

EU member state Lithuania, where Protasevich is based, urged the European Union and NATO to respond.

Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive European Commission, said Protasevich must be released immediately and that those responsible for “the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned,” adding EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Monday would discuss what action to take, Reuters reported.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a tweet that the incident was serious and dangerous and required an international investigation.

Simon Coveney, foreign minister of Ireland, where Ryanair is based, said on Twitter: “EU inaction or indecision will be taken as weakness by Belarus.”

Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said he discussed the Ryanair plane diversion with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker, urging a strong response from the West.

The United States along with the EU, Britain and Canada have already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, following an August election that opponents and the West say was a sham, Reuters reported.

‘ACT OF PIRACY’

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez issued a statement with the heads of seven European parliamentary foreign affairs panels denouncing the forced landing as “an act of piracy.” They called for a ban on all overflights of Belarus, including to and from the country, and for NATO and EU states to impose sanctions and suspend Belarus’ “ability to use Interpol.”

Blinken demanded a “full investigation” of an action he said endangered the lives of the passengers, including U.S. citizens.

“Given indications the forced landing was based on false pretenses, we support the earliest possible meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review these events,” he said in a statement.

Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgiryte said the operation to force the plane carrying around 170 people from 12 countries to land seemed to be pre-planned.

The Belarusian department for organised crime control reported that Protasevich had been detained, before deleting the statement from its Telegram channel.

About 35,000 people have been detained in Belarus since August, human rights groups say. Dozens have received jail terms.

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Six Pakistan Army officers killed in Balochistan helicopter crash

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2022)

Six Pakistan Army officials, including two majors, have been killed in a helicopter crash in Balochistan.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on Monday the helicopter crashed during a mission near Khost in Harnai, Balochistan.

“All six personnel on board, including two pilots, have embraced shahadat,” the military’s media affairs wing said.

The ISPR has released details about the cause of the crash which comes just over a month after a similar incident occurred in Balochistan.

On August 1, a Pakistan Army helicopter with six people on board, including Commander 12 Corps Lieutenant General Sarfraz Ali, lost contact with the air traffic control in Balochistan’s Lasbela district.

A day later, the wreckage of the helicopter was found near Musa Goth. All personnel on board had been killed.

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North Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit

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(Last Updated On: September 25, 2022)

North Korea fired a ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, ahead of planned military drills by South Korean and U.S. forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris, Reuters reported.

South Korea’s military said it was a single, short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area of North Pyongyan Province just before 7 a.m. local time and flew about 600 km (373 miles) at an altitude of 60 km and a speed of Mach 5.

“North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and international community,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

According to Reuters after the launch, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Kim Seung-kyum and the US Forces Korea Commander Paul LaCamera discussed the situation and reaffirmed their readiness to respond to any threat or provocation from North Korea, it added.

South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss response measures and condemned the launch as an apparent violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolutions and an unjustifiable act of provocation.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who arrived in Seoul late on Saturday from a trip to Britain, the United States and Canada, was briefed on the launch, the presidential office said.

Japan’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated the missile reached maximum altitude at 50 km and may have flown on an irregular trajectory. Hamada said it fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there were no reports of problems with shipping or air traffic.

Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defences by manoeuvring during flight and flying on a lower, “depressed” trajectory, experts have said.

“If you include launches of cruise missiles this is the nineteenth launch, which is an unprecedented pace,” Hamada said.

“North Korea’s action represents a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable,” he said, adding that Japan had delivered a protest through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.

The US Indo-pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and consulting closely with allies, in a statement released after the launch, while reaffirming US commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan, read the report.

“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilising impact of the DPRK’s unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programs.”

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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as warning to North Korea

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(Last Updated On: September 23, 2022)

A US aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time in about four years, due to join South Korean ships in a military show of force aimed at sending North Korea a message, Reuters quoting officials said.

USS Ronald Reagan and ships from its accompanying strike force docked at a naval base in the southern port city of Busan.

According to Reuters its arrival marks the most significant deployment yet under a new push to have more US nuclear-capable “strategic assets” operate in the area to deter North Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has pushed for more joint exercises and other displays of military power as a warning to North Korea, which earlier this year conducted a record number of missile tests after talks failed to persuade it to end its nuclear weapons and missile development.

Observers say Pyongyang also appears to be preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017, read the report.

North Korea has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as rehearsals for war and proof of hostile policies by Washington and Seoul.

The visit is the first to South Korea by an American aircraft carrier since 2018. That year, the allies scaled back many of their joint military activities amid diplomatic efforts to engage with North Korea, but those talks have since stalled and Pyongyang this month unveiled an updated law codifying its right to conduct first-use nuclear strikes if necessary to protect itself.

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