Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has described the forced landing in Belarus of a Ryanair flight on Sunday as “state-sponsored aviation piracy”.
Raman Pratasevich, who ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organise protests against Belarus’ authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, was on board the flight when it was diverted to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, while flying over that country.
Belarusian flight controllers had warned the plane crew of an alleged bomb threat and ordered it to land in Minsk, and a Belarusian fighter jet was scrambled to escort the airliner.
Shortly after the landing, the 26-year-old Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend were led out of the plane.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said the European Union must give “a very clear response” to the incident.
The Minister said European leaders will have an opportunity to make clear decisions at meeting of the EU Council later today, adding the regime in Belarus had no democratic legitimacy, and it was "behaving as a dictatorship".
If any indecision or weakness was shown by the EU, it would lead decision-makers in Belarus to believe what they had done was the right thing, Mr Coveney warned.
“I think the response has to be clear, tough and needs to happen quickly,” he added.
Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has called on the EU and the UN Security Council to put more pressure on the "regime" of Alexander Lukashenko and to encourage more talks.
Ms Tikhanovskaya also called for “sharp” EU sanctions and for investigations into those involved in the torture of opposition supporters.
She said the diversion of the Ryanair flight had come as a shock to her as she had taken the same route last week and had not considered it would not be safe.
The kidnapping of Roman Protasevich was not just a threat to Belarusian security, it was also a threat to world safety, Ms Tikhanovskaya added.
Forcing a flight to land, putting 130 passengers at risk “just to kidnap one person” was a threat to worldwide security, she said, claiming people who were in jail in Belarus were tortured and treated very harshly.
There was no information so far on the whereabouts of Mr Protasevich, Ms Tikhanovskaya said, calling for his immediate release and international intervention in his case.
When asked if she knew Mr Protasevich, she said she knew him personally: “He is one of the voices of Belarus, telling the truth about the situation”.