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Pressure grows for sensitive Belarus air safety probe



Pressure is growing for an impartial safety probe into the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk, including review of the plane’s black boxes – a move fraught with sensitivities over access to evidence, aviation experts said.

International condemnation of the scrambling of a fighter jet and the use of what turned out to be a false bomb alert to divert the flight to Minsk and detain a dissident Belarusian journalist has focused mainly on accusations of state-sponsored hijacking and rights violations.

But Europe’s aviation regulator said on Wednesday that Belarus’s actions had also cast doubt on its ability to provide safe air navigation, and some international officials are pushing for an investigation close to the type seen when a plane crashes or something goes technically wrong.

Opening such an investigation would test a system of global co-operation that has generally worked smoothly for decades, aviation experts said.

That’s because under a global protocol called Annex 13 Belarus, as the “state of occurrence”, would have the right to lead any ordinary safety probe with “unrestricted authority” over key evidence such as the plane’s black boxes.

“The state of occurrence has the lead,” said Michael Daniel, a former U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accident investigator. “However they are also the prime suspect in this case.”

A probe would not take place entirely behind closed doors. The United States, where the Boeing 737 was made, and Poland, where it is registered, would be accredited. And states with passengers on board would have access to some information.

Lithuania, the destination of the flight from Greece, has said passengers included 94 Lithuanians, nine French citizens and 11 Greeks. Also on board was Russian citizen Sophia Sapega, the 23-year-old girlfriend of dissident Roman Protasevich, who was detained along with him.

Her presence on the flight could open the door to observer status for Belarus’ closest ally in any investigation following normal safety probe rules.


Experts said Sunday’s forcing down of the plane in Belarus was among a handful of extremely rare incidents that have exposed a loophole allowing countries accused of violations in their own airspace to control a probe carried out in the sometimes grey zone between security and safety.

Last year Iran led an investigation into the shooting down of a Ukrainian plane on its territory, blaming it on the error of a military operator. But Ukraine and Canada criticised the final report and relatives questioned the probe’s impartiality.

The cockpit voice recorder has the potential to play an important role in any investigation if its two-hour loop retains a recording of communications before landing.

Belarus released what it said was an extract of the air traffic control transcript on Tuesday, but it differed from extracts previously publicised on Belarusian state TV and also appeared to contradict statements from Minsk airport officials.


Belarus, which has blamed the diversion on an alleged bomb threat and accused the West of using the episode to wage “hybrid war”, has invited U.S., European and international aviation officials to join it against “acts of unlawful interference”.

But Europe’s warning could favour a probe on safety grounds. These fall into categories including “accident” or “serious incident”.

“It’s definitely a serious incident, when you have air traffic control essentially lying to you to tell you that there is something that’s putting your aircraft at risk but it’s not clear why and you have to follow these aircraft and land here,” said Mark Zee, founder of flight advisory firm OPSGROUP.

Daniel, the former FAA investigator, said a more international approach than usual was needed to bring “credibility and objectiveness”, as happened after the downing by missile of a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine in 2014.

In that case, the majority of victims were from the Netherlands, which led the probe with Ukraine’s permission.

“If the investigation is not going to be able to be freely investigated by the Belarusian authorities – and that seems unlikely given the nature of the event – then you would want some other country,” Zee said.

“It may be an alliance of states that will say ‘we’ll investigate this to the best of our ability’.”

Airlines have called for a broad international probe.

The U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is convening an urgent meeting of its 36-member council, which has some scope for fact-finding investigations, on Thursday.

“All the aviation authorities will take it seriously because it is unprecedented and it goes to the integrity of the air traffic management system,” aviation lawyer John Dawson said.

“The whole thing about the air traffic management system is that everything is designed for a safe and efficient way to land an aircraft. When it becomes political, to get hold of a political opponent, it is obviously counter to that aim.”

(Reporting by Jamie Freed and Tim Hepher; additonal reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, Pavel Polityuk, Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Teamsters votes to fund and support Amazon workers



The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union in the United States and Canada, said on Thursday it has voted to formalize a resolution to support and fund employees of Inc in their unionization efforts.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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Citigroup names new sales head for Treasury and Trade Solutions unit



Citigroup Inc has named Steve Elms as the new sales head for the bank’s Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) unit effective immediately, according to an internal memo shared by a company spokesperson.

Elms, who will oversee the management of the global sales teams, has been involved with the bank’s TTS division for over 10 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

TTS is a division of the bank’s Institutional Clients group. The segment offers cash management and trade services and finance to multinational corporations, financial institutions and public sector organizations around the world.

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru and David Henry in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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Indigenous group finds 751 unmarked graves at former residential school in Saskatchewan



An indigenous group in Canada’s Saskatchewan province on Thursday said it had found the unmarked graves of 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, just weeks after a similar discovery rocked the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the new discovery at Marieval Indian Residential School about 87 miles (140 km) from the provincial capital Regina.

He told indigenous people that “the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters.

He said the church that ran the school removed the headstones.

“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene,” he said.

The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools run on behalf of the federal government.

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations. Now we have evidence,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

“This is just the beginning.”

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report that found the country’s residential school system amounted to cultural genocide, has said a cemetery was left on the Marieval site after the school building was demolished.

Cowessess First Nation has been in touch with the local Catholic archdiocese and Delorme said he is optimistic they will provide records allowing them to identify the remains.

“We have full faith that the Roman Catholic Church will release our records. They haven’t told us ‘No.’ We just don’t have them yet.”

The Cowessess First Nation began a ground-penetrating radar search on June 2, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia outraged the country.

The Kamloops discovery reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said in early June that he was pained by the Kamloops revelation and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in VancouverEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

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