(WASHINGTON) — The White House has announced that the United States will reimpose sanctions on Belarus next week after the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to the country on May 23 and the arrest of an opposition journalist on board.
In a scathing statement Friday night, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the incident “a direct affront to international norms” and called on President Alexander Lukashenko to allow a “credible international investigation” into the events and “immediately release all political prisoners.”
Psaki said the U.S. will reimpose “full blocking sanctions against nine Belarusian state-owned enterprises” on Thursday, which would prohibit Americans from engaging in transactions with those entities.
The U.S. is also coordinating with the European Union and other allies to develop a list of targeted sanctions against key members of Lukasheko’s regime, and the Treasury Department is developing a new executive order for Biden that would give the president increased authority to impose sanctions on “elements” of the regime, Psaki said.
The Department of State has issued warning to U.S. citizens urging them not to travel to Belarus, and The Federal Aviation Administration has warned airlines to “exercise extreme caution when considering flying in Belarusian airspace.”
The actions, Psaki said, are “in response to the events of May 23 and the Lukashenka regime’s continuing attack on fundamental freedoms.”
Last weekend, European airliner Ryanair was in Belarus’ airspace while traveling from Greece to Lithuania when it was diverted to Minsk because of a supposed bomb on board. On the ground, security agents arrested Roman Protasevich, co-founder of the social media news channel NEXTA, which was crucial in organizing opposition to the authoritarian president, and his Russian girlfriend.
Belarus was accused of “hijacking” the civilian airliner while Belarusian authorities have continued to claim they were responding to a real bomb threat and acting to protect the passengers. Protasevich and his girlfriend remain in custody.
ABC News’ Patrick Reevell contributed to this report.
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