Western countries have expressed outrage at the forced diversion of a plane carrying a Belarusian activist on an internal EU flight on Sunday.
EU leaders are due to discuss their response to what the union’s executive called a “hijacking” and the US state department “a shocking act”.
Belarus forced the plane, which was bound for Lithuania, to land in Minsk claiming a bomb threat to the aircraft.
It arrested the Belarusian journalist and activist Roman Protasevich.
The 26-year-old was aboard the Ryanair plane, which was flying from Athens. The aircraft was due to land in Vilnius but still in Belarusian airspace when Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet and diverted it to the country’s capital.
State media in Belarus said President Alexander Lukashenko had personally given the order for the move following the bomb alert, which turned out to be false. The plane landed in Vilnius more than six hours after its scheduled arrival.
Since winning a disputed election last August, 66-year-old Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, has cracked down on dissenting voices. Many opposition figures have been arrested while others fled into exile.
The incident drew sharp condemnation from across the European Union, with countries urging the immediate release of Mr Protasevich and a full investigation.
The president of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda, urged the EU to impose fresh economic sanctions on Belarus at Monday’s meeting of union leaders.
Dozens of Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko, are already under EU sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes imposed on response to repression of opponents.
Ursula Vlvon der Leyen, head of the EU, and Anthony Blinken, US secretary of State both condemned the act.
Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, said “the outrageous and illegal behaviour… will have consequences”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the “shocking act” and said President Joe Biden’s administration was “co-ordinating with our partners on next steps”.
The head of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, issued a statement with some of his European parliamentary counterparts denouncing “an act of piracy” and calling for a ban on flights over Belarus.
How the flight diverted
Flight FR4978 turned east to Minsk shortly before it reached the Lithuanian border. Greece and Lithuania put the number of passengers on board at 171.
In a statement, Ryanair said the crew had been “notified by Belarus (Air Traffic Control) of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk”.