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More airlines suspend flights in Belarus airspace

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The first Air France airliner’s Airbus A350 takes off after a ceremony at the aircraft builder’s headquarters in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Air France, Finnair and Singapore Airlines became the latest carriers to suspend flights over Belarus on Tuesday after Minsk forced a jet to land to arrest a dissident.

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The announcements came a day after European Union leaders urged EU-based airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and banned the country’s airlines from the 27-nation block.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet Sunday to intercept a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying wanted reporter Roman Protasevich, 26, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

Air France said in a statement it had “taken note” of the conclusions of Monday’s EU summit and had suspended flights over Belarus “until further notice”.

Planes already in the air will have their flight plans modified, the French company said.

Singapore Airlines was also rerouting flights “that are bound for Europe to avoid the Belarusian airspace” and would continue to “closely monitor the situation”, a spokesperson said.

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“The safety of our customers and crew is our top priority,” a spokesperson told AFP.

Finnair said the next flight that will be affected by its decision to reroute planes is one that was heading to the Turkish coastal town of Gazipasa on Wednesday.

Scandinavian airline SAS, Germany’s Lufthansa and Latvia-based regional airline Air Baltic made similar announcements on Monday.

Britain also issued instructions for British aircraft to avoid Belarusian airspace while Ukraine decided to halt direct flights between the two countries and over Belarus.

Western leaders have accused Belarusian authorities of essentially hijacking a European plane, while Minsk claimed it had reacted to secure the flight after receiving a bomb threat.

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