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Belarus state airline cuts fleet by nearly half due to sanctions

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MOSCOW, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Belarusian state-run airline Belavia said on Friday it had been forced to reduce its fleet of planes by almost half after the European Union targeted it with sanctions.

The EU sanctioned Belavia on Thursday, accusing it of flying in migrants as a tactic to destabilise European states, punitive measures that were coordinated with Washington.

The sanctions mean EU companies can no longer lease planes to the airline, EU officials have said.

"Due to the imposition of restrictions, the airline has been forced to reduce its fleet," Belavia said in a statement, adding it currently had 15 aircraft.

It did not specify which of its previous 14 Boeing and 15 Embraer aircraft were no longer part of the fleet.

As of the end of last year, the airline owned 15 planes, including 5 Embraer and 8 Boeing aircraft, with the same number on lease. One of Belavia's biggest suppliers of leased planes has been the Air Lease Corporation (ALC).

Belavia, the only airline in the ex-Soviet economy of 9.5 million people, said it planned to rebuild its fleet by purchasing planes and also by leasing them from non-EU based companies.

It has been banned from much of Europe's airspace after an international outcry over the grounding of a Ryanair jet in Belarus and arrest of a dissident. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Kirsten Donovan)