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Europe

Netherlands holds day of mourning for victims of flight MH17

© Genya Savilov, AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-24

Two planes carrying the remains of many of the victims from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 arrived in the Netherlands Wednesday as the country marked a day of national mourning for the 193 citizens it lost in the crash.

Bells peeled and flags flew at half mast to honour the victims of the doomed Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight, which was allegedly blown out of the sky by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, drawing victims from 10 different nations into a remote conflict raging in eastern Ukraine.

Ahead of the arrival of the first bodies, Prime Minister Mark Rutte led the first national day of mourning since the death of wartime Queen Wilhelmina in 1962.

Two black boxes recovered from the flight have been handed to Dutch experts leading the investigation and will be sent to Britain for the data to be downloaded, the Netherlands government said.

The recovery of the crucial flight recorders and the victims' remains came after days of bitter wrangling with the pro-Russian separatists controlling the crash site. The rebels finally released them after coming under intense international pressure.

Evidence gathered by US intelligence officials suggests separatists launched the SA-11 surface-to-air missile that blew up Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday, but it remains unclear who "pulled the trigger" and why.

"The most plausible explanation ... was that it was a mistake", said a senior intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that the missile was likely fired by "an ill-trained crew".

The intelligence official cited previous incidents over the years in which both Russian and US forces have mistakenly shot down civilian airliners. A Korean airliner was downed by a Soviet fighter jet in 1983, and US naval forces mistakenly shot down an Iranian civilian passenger plane in 1988.

"We've all seen mistakes in the past," the official told reporters.

'Fuselage has been removed'

The crash has spurred an intense propaganda war, with both Ukraine and Russia trading blame, ratcheting up tensions after months of crisis sparked when Kiev turned its back on its former Soviet master by deposing its pro-Kremlin president in favour of stronger European ties.

US officials accuse Russia of backing the separatists by providing them with military hardware and training.

Russia denies supporting the rebels, who have declared independence in parts of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine. Moscow also denies that it supplied rebels with the missile system allegedly used to target MH17.

A senior security official in Kiev claimed that Russia had massed over 40,000 soldiers along its border over the past week.

US intelligence officials said they chose to brief reporters partly to counter what they called "misinformation" from Russia and its state-controlled media over the incident.

The US officials said Russian claims the Ukrainian government had shot down the plane were "not plausible".

A truce has been declared by rival sides around the crash site, but international investigators still face massive obstacles. Only 200 of the 298 victims' remains arrived in the government-controlled city of Kharkiv, about 80 less than promised.

"We did observe changes at the site," said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE's mission to Ukraine, after visiting the impact site. "The fuselage has been moved. It appears that the cone section is split in two and it appears that the tail fin has been moved."

France sells warships to Russia

Fighting raged Tuesday as government troops pushed on with an offensive to wrest control of east Ukraine's industrial heartland from the separatists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday pledged to "do everything" to influence the separatists to cooperate and ensure a full international investigation into the crash.

At the same time, he put the ball back in Kiev's court, saying that the Ukrainian military offensive in the east was posing a danger to international investigators there.

"We are asked to exert influence on the militants of the southeast (of Ukraine). Of course, we will do everything in our power," Putin said.

"However, this would be absolutely inadequate" given the fresh attacks by Ukrainian troops, he said.

Putin is facing fresh European sanctions just a week after the latest set was unveiled over the Ukraine crisis, which has chilled East-West tensions to the lowest point in years.

Britain is pushing for an arms embargo on Moscow, putting neighbouring France in an awkward position as Paris seeks to push ahead with a €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) warship sale to Russia.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius this week told Britain to first put its house in order, pointing out that London was full of "Russian oligarchs".

British broadcaster ITV reported on Wednesday that the UK's Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls found 251 export licenses were still in effect for £132 million (€167 million) in controlled goods – including arms, ammunition, and military communications and cryptography equipment – to be sold to Russia.

Washington has also weighed in on the debate, telling France pointedly that the delivery of Mistral-class warships to Russia would be "completely inappropriate" given the West's misgivings about Moscow's current role in Ukraine.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-07-23

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