Belarusian plane turns back after warning about French airspace

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WARSAW (Reuters) -A Belarusian passenger plane flying from Minsk to Barcelona turned back on Wednesday, data from website Flightradar24 showed, after Poland said it may not be able to enter French airspace. 

  European Union leaders have directed officials to draw up new sanctions against Belarus and work out a way to ban Belarusian airlines from the bloc's skies after a Ryanair flight carrying a dissident journalist was forced to land in Minsk. 

  Belarusian state carrier Belavia flight 2869 from Minsk had been scheduled to land in Barcelona on Wednesday afternoon. 

  "This pilot received information from us that the French airspace was blocked ... and he may have a problem with entering," Polish Air Navigation Services Agency spokesman Pawel Lukasiewicz said by telephone. 

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  Belarus' foreign ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz called the move "air piracy", while Belavia said a ban on flights from Minsk to Paris, received earlier from the French aviation authorities, initially did not include a ban on passage through French airspace. 

  "A second attempt to coordinate the route with Marseille's Air Traffic Control was also unsuccessful, including flights on routes passing over neutral waters, which is contrary to the norms of the Chicago Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea," it said. 

  French Junior Minister for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Monday that France had suspended the authorisation for Belavia flights to cross its territory. 

  Belavia has said it has been banned from flying to Lithuania, Latvia, France, Sweden, Britain, Finland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. 

  Poland has been allowing Belavia flights to enter its airspace, and a Belavia flight from Minsk to Warsaw landed in the Polish capital at 1220 GMT on Wednesday, according to the website of the city's Chopin Airport. 

  But Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller later said the country's cabinet had approved a ban on Belarusian carriers entering its airspace. Muller told Reuters by text message that the ban would come into effect at midnight local time. 

  (Reporting by Alicja Ptak in Warsaw, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Laurence Frost in Paris, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Vladimir Soldatkin and Gleb Stolayrov in Moscow; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alex Richardson)