BRUSSELS, June 21 (Xinhua) -- The European Union (EU) on Monday announced new sanctions against 78 individuals and eight entities in Belarus, partially in response to the diversion of a commercial flight to Minsk last month.
Seven of the individuals and one entity had sanctions issued in connection with what the EU believed a forced landing of the Ryanair passenger plane by Minsk and the alleged arrest of a dissident journalist on board.
The bloc is also preparing a series of economic measures against Belarus, said Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy following an EU foreign ministers' meeting.
The Council of the EU said that four rounds of restrictive measures on Belarus now apply to a total of 166 persons and 15 entities. Borrell said he did not exclude a fifth round of sanctions.
The move came nearly a month after a Ryanair passenger plane en route from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to land in Minsk on May 23.
The Irish airline said that the flight FR4978 was directed to an airport in Minsk as crew on the plane had been alerted to a possible security threat by Belarusian authorities, adding that nothing untoward was found.
Belarusian Transport Ministry Aviation Department Director Artem Sikorsky told reporters on May 24, in response to the incident, that the country had received a bomb threat.
"Belarus has always opposed, in words and deeds, confrontation. We are for dialogue and understanding. But being a sovereign state, we will respond decisively, though with regret, to the unfriendly actions in order to protect our national interests," the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in response to the last round of EU sanctions in October 2020.