Wednesday 21 March 2018

Dutch leader presses Putin on probe

Mark Rutte says he was shocked by images of rebels picking through the belongings of victims at the crash scene
Mark Rutte says he was shocked by images of rebels picking through the belongings of victims at the crash scene

An angry Dutch prime minister says he has had an "extremely intense" telephone conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin in which he urged him to "show the world he intends to help" in the investigation into the Ukraine air disaster.

Mark Rutte said to reporters that he told Mr Putin he must use his influence over separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine to ensure they do not hinder efforts to investigate the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The plane crashed on Thursday, killing all 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch citizens.

Mr Rutte says he was "shocked by images of completely disrespectful behaviour" of rebels picking through the wreckage and personal belongings of victims at the scene.

Forensic teams fanned out across the Netherlands today to collect material that will help identify the remains of the victims.

Families and friends of the dead huddled to console each other at churches, schools and sports clubs across the nation.

Altius, a small football club on the edge of the central city of Hilversum, was typical of scenes that played out across the Netherlands.

A couple of dozen members held a small ceremony at the clubhouse to remember a family of four killed in the crash, as the team's flag fluttered at half-mast in the warm afternoon breeze.

Charles Smallenburg was a long-time volunteer at the club, his young son Werther a promising striker in the D1 youth team, club chairman Tom Verdam said. Charles's wife Therese and daughter Carlijn also died, the club said.

Mr Verdam said: "We had a moment that we could each share emotions and talk about it. It's a small club, so everyone knows everyone."

The same could almost be said for this nation of 17 million people.

"Everybody knows somebody," was the front-page headline of national newspaper NRC Weekend.

Police said that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team would be visiting victims' relatives over the coming days. Other Dutch forensic experts are heading to the crash scene, foreign minister Frans Timmermans said.

Their aim is to build a database of material including DNA and photographs of distinguishing features like scars and tattoos that can be used to identify bodies and body parts recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Malaysia Airlines said 193 of the 298 passengers and crew killed were Dutch.

Dutch newspapers carried pages of photos and stories about the dead. Travellers flying out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.

"I am not really afraid. It's good that they kept the same flight number," Mirelle Geervliet said as she prepared to board the aircraft. "It doesn't change anything. If you change the number, people will start to be afraid."

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, on a visit to the Netherlands, was among those who signed the condolence book.

"This is a real tragedy - a tragedy for families, for nations and for the HIV Aids community," he said, referring to a researcher and at least five other people who were travelling to an Aids conference in Australia.

"We should all hope that a thorough international investigation will be conducted and we will know what happened and the culprits should be held to account."

Press Association

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