European Union ambassadors have adopted a plan to ban Belarus airlines from flying over EU territory or landing in EU airports, and prohibiting EU airlines from flying over Belarus, diplomats have said.
The decision is due to take effect at midnight, barring any last-minute objections by EU states before 1pm (Irish time) this afternoon, which are not expected, the diplomats said.
The latest development comes after detained journalist Roman Protasevich appeared on Belarusian state television tearfully confessing to his role in anti-government protests in an interview which the opposition said was made under duress.
In his third appearance since the Ryanair plane he was on was forced by the authorities to land in Minsk nearly two weeks ago, Mr Protasevich admitted to plotting to topple President Alexander Lukashenko by organising "riots" and recanted earlier criticism of the veteran leader.
Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to the exiled Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said - using a different spelling of Protasevich's name - "It's painful to see 'confessions' of Raman Pratasevich. His parents believe he was tortured. This is not Raman I know."
Writing on Twitter, Mr Viacorka said: "He is the hostage of the regime, and we must make all possible to release him and the other 460 political prisoners."
It's painful to see "confessions" of Raman Pratasevich. His parents believe he was tortured. This is not Raman I know. This man on Goebbels’ TV is the hostage of the regime, and we must make all possible to release him and the other 460 political prisoners. pic.twitter.com/a0Ts833hZk— Franak Viacorka (@franakviacorka) June 3, 2021
The opposition has said a video confession made last month by Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, Mr Protasevich's girlfriend who was also detained after the forced landing, appeared coerced.
President Lukashenko's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accusations.
Previously, authorities have said Mr Protasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence.
They have maintained that aired television confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.
Mr Protasevich said he was giving the interview of his own volition.
Of his former associates, Mr Protasevich said: "I'm almost certain they will condemn me publicly, and rallies in support of me will come to naught.
"But I don't care what they will be saying.
"I immediately admitted my guilt in organising massive unauthorised actions.
"I criticised Alexander Grigoryevich a lot, but when I became more involved in political topics, I began to understand that he was doing the right thing and I certainly respect him," he said in the 90-minute video.
Western countries and international rights groups have condemned Mr Lukashenko over the forced landing of the aircraft and also imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials over a crackdown on protests following a contested election last year.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya has said she believed Mr Protasevich had been beaten and tortured in prison.
A lawyer who visited him said he was fine.