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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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Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; dozens injured

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

The eruption of Indonesia’s Semeru volcano has killed at least 13 people and injured dozens, the disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, as search teams looked for victims in a landscape covered in deep layers of ash.

Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic, Reuters reported.

The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, authorities said.

BNPB official Abdul Muhari said in a news release that 13 people had been killed. Ninety-eight were injured, including two pregnant women, and 902 have been evacuated, the statement said.

Most injuries were burns, authorities said.

Indonesia President Joko Widodo has ordered authorities to find and treat victims, the state secretary said.

Semeru had started emitting hot clouds and lava flows near its rivers recently, and the country’s volcanology center had warned people not to go near it since Wednesday, it said.

In 2010, an eruption of the Merapi volcano on Java island killed over 350 people and displaced 400,000.

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Pakistan receives $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

Pakistan on Saturday received a $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia, the prime minister’s finance adviser said, as part of an economic support package.

The South Asian country has faced growing economic challenges, with high inflation, sliding forex reserves, a widening current account deficit and a depreciating currency, Reuters reported.

Pakistan’s total liquid foreign reserves stand at $22,498.8 million, based on central bank data.

Shaukat Tarin, finance adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, said in a tweet: “I want to thank His Excellency Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the kind gesture.”

The loan from Saudi Arabia will be for one year at a 4% interest rate under the terms of the package, which was signed last month, Reuters reported.

“This is positive news … and will help bolster both the foreign exchange reserves and sentiments in the forex market,” Saad Hashemy, executive director at BMA Capital said.

The loan comes a week after the International Monetary Fund agreed with Pakistan on measures needed to revive a stalled $6 billion funding program.

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Uzbekistan’s Samarkand city named 2023 World Tourism Capital

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(Last Updated On: December 5, 2021)

Uzbekistan’s historic city of Samarkand was chosen as the 2023 World Tourism Capital at the 24th General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Spain, Uzbekistan’s Tourism and Sports Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Samarkand will host the 25th General Assembly of the UNWTO, which will be a “historic event” as it marks the first time in history that the gathering will be held in Uzbekistan, read the statement.

The summit in Madrid was attended by a delegation led by Uzbekistan’s Tourism and Sports Minister Aziz Abdukhakimov, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister.

The opportunity to host a UN organization meeting for the first time is the result of the Uzbek government’s policies and efforts to develop tourism in the country, the statement added.

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