Belarus retaliates by blocking airspace
The government will bar overflights by U.S. and Canadian airlines, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday, citing those countries` refusal last month to allow Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky`s plane permission to refuel during flights to and from Cuba.
It was not immediately clear how many flights would be affected - most direct flights from North America to Russia, for example, fly to the north of Belarus - nor was it clear if the ban affected both commercial and official flights.
"Belarus strictly observes symmetry in adopting any sort of retaliatory measures," a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andrei Popov, said at a news conference here. "These restrictions will apply only to two countries - the United States and Canada."
The West has intensified its criticism of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, describing his landslide re-election in March as blatantly rigged. As a result of the vote, Lukashenko has faced EU and U.S. sanctions. He and as many as 30 top government officials face the seizure of financial assets and a visa ban.
In a recent speech to Parliament, Lukashenko told lawmakers: "Let them fly over the Baltics, Ukraine. The main flight path will be closed off. Maybe we`ll lose something from this, but we must show them our pride."
Belarus annually receives about $200,000 from the United States and Canada for the use of its airspace.
Popov said, "Restrictive measures introduced against Belarus violate the spirit and letter of international agreements and agreements on freedom of movement."
Popov also said that Belarus was preparing a legal challenge in international courts to contest the visa sanctions.
Lukashenko has been accused of silencing the media, hounding his opponents and clinging to Soviet-style economics.
After the election, more than 600 demonstrators were jailed for up to 15 days and opposition leaders were handed similar sentences after subsequent protests.