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Belarus accused of ‘hijacking’ Ryanair flight diverted to arrest blogger

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Belarus has been accused of hijacking a European jetliner and engaging in an act of state terrorism when it forced a Ryanair flight to perform an emergency landing in Minsk after a bomb threat and arrested an opposition blogger critical of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

Roman Protasevich, a former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, was detained by police after his flight was diverted to Minsk national airport. Minsk confirmed that Lukashenko ordered his military to scramble a Mig-29 fighter to escort the plane.

The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said the plane had been “hijacked” and accused Mr Lukashenko of a “reprehensible act of state terrorism”. He said he would demand new sanctions against Belarus at a European Council meeting scheduled for Monday.

Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the UK foreign affairs select committee, said: “If aircraft can be forced to the ground, in order to punish the political opponents of tyrants, then journalists here in the UK, politicians anywhere in Europe will find it harder to speak out.”

He joined counterparts from the US, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and the Czech Republic in condemning the action as “an act of piracy” and calling for the suspension of all overflights. “This act of state terror and kidnapping is a threat to all those who travel in Europe and beyond. It cannot be allowed to stand,” they said in a joint statement.

European Council

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said EU leaders would decide on the repercussions for Belarus at Monday’s meeting.

He said: “I call on Belarus authorities to immediately release the detained passenger and to fully guarantee his rights. EU leaders will discuss this unprecedented incident tomorrow during the European Council. The incident will not remain without consequences.”

Forcing the emergency landing of a European jetliner would be an extraordinary act even for Mr Lukashenko’s government, which has launched a broad crackdown on opposition leaders and independent media. Opponents of the regime have been arrested, including some who have fled abroad to avoid reprisals, including a former spokesman for Mr Lukashenko who vanished last month during a trip to Moscow and then reappeared in custody in Minsk.

Protasevich has been accused by Belarus of terrorism and provoking riots after the Nexta channels became one of the main conduits for organising last year’s anti-Lukashenko protests over elections fraud. Protasevich had been living in exile and Poland had previously rejected an extradition request sent by Minsk.

Protasevich was flying on an intra-EU flight from Athens to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when the plane was diverted to Minsk. According to online flight data, the plane was over Belarusian airspace when it diverted course but was closer to Vilnius than Minsk.

“I’m facing the death penalty here,” a trembling Protasevich reportedly told a fellow passenger from the plane before he was led away by Belarusian police. The mass unrest charges against him carry a sentence of up to 15 years. His current whereabouts are unknown.

The grounding of a plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on an Ireland-based carrier with a Poland-based political exile on board provoked broad condemnation from across the EU bloc and the threat to European transportation routes also triggered a strong reaction from EU officials.

“Unprecedented event!” wrote Gitanas Nausda, the president of Lithuania. “The regime is behind the abhorrent action. I demand to free Roman Protasevich urgently!”

‘Immediate explanation’

The German foreign ministry state secretary, Miguel Berger, demanded “an immediate explanation by the government of Belarus on the diversion of a Ryanair flight within the EU to Minsk and the alleged detention of a journalist” and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said “any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences”.

Protasevich had been covering a visit to Athens by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former presidential candidate who has declared herself the country’s leader-in-exile due to widespread fraud during last year’s elections. She called on the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to investigate Belarus.

In a statement sent to the Guardian, Ryanair said it had been ordered to divert the flight to Minsk by Belarusian air-traffic controllers.

“The crew on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius today were notified by Belarus ATC of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk,” the airline said. “Ryanair has notified the relevant national and European safety and security agencies and we apologise sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay which was outside Ryanair’s control.”

The statement did not mention reports that a military jet had been scrambled to escort the jetliner or that a passenger from the flight had been detained during the stop in Minsk.

Protasevich told colleagues earlier on Sunday he had been followed while travelling to the airport in Athens. A Russian speaker had followed him into a line at the airport and attempted to photograph his documents, he wrote to colleagues. They said they had not heard from him since. – Guardian



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Bank of Ireland linked to fund involved in massive European tax fraud

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Bank of Ireland’s services were used by a company involved in a network of hedge funds at the centre of financial transactions, dubbed fraud by a German court, that have cost European tax authorities billions of euro.

The Irish bank’s fund administration unit, Bank of Ireland Securities Services (BOISS), was the custodian bank of an investment fund involved in the scheme.

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Reader question: When must I change to winter tyres in Switzerland?

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While winters have been a little milder in recent years, the snow, ice and sleet can still play havoc with your car.

Landslides and other road damage caused by inclement winter weather can also mean you lose control a little easier. 

Even in city areas, the colder weather can increase the risk of losing control. 

READ MORE: Ten strange Swiss road signs you need to know about

In Switzerland, the law is relatively complex. While there is no hard and fast rule for winter tyres at certain times, you have a responsibility to ensure your vehicle is roadworthy – which means being ready for the conditions. 

When do I need to put winter tyres on – and what happens if I don’t? 

Unlike many of its neighbours – and many cold countries from across the world – winter tyres are not mandatory in Switzerland. 

Therefore, you will not face any penalty if you continue to drive on summer tyres all year ‘round, either on a federal or cantonal basis.  

This is somewhat surprising for people from Austria, Sweden, Finland and some parts of the United States where winter tyres are mandatory during colder months. 

In Austria, for instance, winter tyres are required from November to April, regardless of the conditions. 

In Germany, Italy and Norway, winter tyres are not mandatory on the basis of the year’s calendar, but they are required in certain road conditions. 

However, certain roads can require you to have chains or winter tyres in order to drive on them at certain times.

This will be designated by a sign on a particular road or pass that winter tyres are required. 

Generally speaking, this will be on mountain roads or other passes, rather than in city streets. 

OK, so I don’t have to, but when should I change? 

The Swiss Road Traffic Act (Art. 29) says that all drivers on Swiss roads have a responsibility to ensure their vehicles are in a roadworthy condition. 

In slippery, winter conditions, the best way to ensure that your car does not lose control is to have it fitted with winter tyres. 

There are also insurance obligations to consider. 

The Swiss government notes that drivers without winter tyres may be deemed to be negligent. 

Driving in Europe: What are the Covid rules and checks at road borders?

“In the case of an accident, the driver may be found liable if the car is not properly equipped for the winter. The insurance company may not cover the full cost of the damage or may even take action against the insured person for negligence.”

Touring Club Switzerland (TCS) says that you should consider putting winter tyres on your car if the temperature drops below 7 degrees. 

Auto Suisse says that a default rule to follow is consider replacing summer tyres with winter ones from October until Easter, although this is of course dependent on the conditions. 



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Social media: Why vaccines, paella and ‘tortilla’ trend on Spanish Twitter | Opinion

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The content that gets shared the most on social media is not always an indignant message or an ingenious insult. Sometimes, it can even be pleasant to be on Twitter. This past weekend, the German television network Deutsche Welle published an English-language video special about Spain’s successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign. This video has been shared by Twitter users more than a thousand times in messages that expressed pride and included the hashtag #marcaEspaña (or, Brand Spain).

The Deutsche Welle video compared the 78% rate of fully vaccinated people in Spain at the time the report was made (the figure is now closer to 80%) to the 69% in Italy, 68% in France and 65% in Germany. Some of the reasons put forward to explain this success, despite a slow start, include widespread faith in the country’s public health system, the media’s scant coverage of vaccine conspiracy theories, and also “the devastating first wave of the pandemic.”

Positive messages about Spain from a foreign source are usually popular on social media. But at the same time it seems that if a Spaniard mentions that the country is doing something reasonably well, such as the vaccination campaign for instance, their fellow countrymen have trouble believing it. The impression (not always off base) is that the speaker has an axe to grind or may be trying to sell us a story (or even worse, a flag). But if a foreign media outlet says the same thing – well, we may not be fully convinced, but at least we enjoy hearing it.

And it’s not just with crucial subject matter such as vaccines. It also happens with other less critically important issues, such as Spain’s famous potato omelet, or tortilla de patatas. When a reporter from The New York Times extolled celebrity chef Ferrán Adriá’s version, made with potato chips from a bag rather than freshly sliced potatoes, it prompted nothing but satisfied tweets. But messages about the same recipe shared before the article came out showed a marked difference of opinions, to put it mildly.

It also works the other way around: when our dear old Spain comes under attack, we view it as an affront requiring revenge. There are still Twitter users out there who have not forgiven British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for making a paella with chorizo in 2016 (at the time, some people compared his creation with the notorious botched restoration of a Christ figure in 2012).

And let’s not forget what happened to an Italian citizen who tweeted this summer that Spain was like Italy, but a bit worse. I will refrain from mentioning his name because he has already put up with enough grief. “Hey guys,” he amusingly tweeted afterwards. “Just checking, does ‘me cago en tu puta madre’ mean ‘I respectfully disagree’?”

I don’t think that Twitter turns us into patriots, fortunately enough for everyone. There’s no doubt that a lot of different elements are at play here: it’s easier to praise the Deutsche Welle video if you are a supporter of public healthcare (or even of the government). As for the food disputes, there is a lot of joking and pretending going on there. There is also an element of surprise: while we find it normal for there to be talk in Spain about the US, the UK or Germany, we are surprised every time Spain is mentioned abroad, and that’s because we tend to view ourselves as rather insignificant (which is understandable). And I’m also not ruling out the view held by some that focusing so much on what the foreign media says is, in itself, quite provincial.

But it’s also true that we should all find some joy in the fact that, once in a while, we can work together to do something well. And perhaps even celebrate with a good tortilla de patatas. I won’t go into whether it should have onion in it or not, because I don’t want to ruin the moment with another argument.



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