Malaysia team in Kiev as anger mounts over MH17

AFP , Saturday 19 Jul 2014

A woman holds an anti-Putin placard to protest the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, 19 July 2014. (Photo:AP)

A Malaysian team including two air accident investigators arrived in Kiev on Saturday and the transport minister was expected to follow as the Malaysian prime minister appealed for access to the MH17 crash site.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone late Friday to stress the need for an objective, unfettered probe into the crash that killed 298 people, amid concerns the site was vulnerable to tampering.

"I also told Putin that the site should not be tampered (with) before the team begins its investigation," he was quoted saying by national news agency Bernama.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 came down in a separatist-held region, with the United States saying it was shot down in a missile attack, a possible casualty of Ukraine's battle with pro-Russia rebels.

A 62-member Malaysian team arrived in Kiev on Saturday, a member of the delegation told AFP.

It was to include two accredited air crash investigators invited by Ukraine to help probe responsibility for the disaster.

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai was due to leave for Kiev later Saturday, the Star daily said.

Though it occurred in rebel territory, Ukraine's government has the authority to investigate the crash, under international conventions.

But concerns have emerged after international observers were blocked or given only partial access by armed rebels.

US President Barack Obama has said evidence indicates a missile was fired from the rebel-held zone.

The disaster has deeply shocked Malaysia, still grappling with the trauma of the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew aboard, including 38 Malaysians.

No trace of MH370 has been found, severely damaging Malaysia's image abroad and leaving furious passengers' relatives deeply anguished and demanding answers.

"Wrong target, who committed this atrocity?" leading Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia said of MH17 on its front page Saturday, echoing the tone of most leading newspapers and Malaysian social media chatter.

Forty-four Malaysians were on the flight.

In an address to his nation late Friday, Najib demanded justice if it is determined that the plane was shot down, condemning what he called an "inhumane, uncivilised, violent and irresponsible act".

He said the Muslim-majority country would hold an emergency sitting of parliament -- expected Wednesday -- to vent Malaysian anger over the disaster, and that all flags in the country would be flown at half-mast.

"Of course there is anger. Why must this happen only to us (in) Malaysia? I really feel like beating that Russian, Vladimir Putin," said Mohamad Shidee Mohamad Ghazali, 28, a welder with the state utility company Tenaga Nasional.

Civil servant Nor Azizah Johar, 31, said her childhood friend Mohamad Ali Mohamad Salim was aboard the flight. They had planned to meet up during the coming Eid al-Fitr Islamic holiday.

"I am shocked that such an incident can happen," she said.

"I leave it to Allah. What can we do? We are just pawns in this issue."

Kiev has accused pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian forces of committing a "terrorist act".

Stunned world leaders have urged a full investigation, which could further fan the flames of Russia's confrontation with Ukraine, the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, if pro-Russian rebels are found culpable.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans arrived in Kiev with a team of 15 investigators, the national ANP news agency reported. Nearly 200 Dutch nationals were on board the plane.

The Malaysian team also includes representatives from the air force, civil aviation authorities, and Malaysia Airlines.

The team would head to Kiev in hopes of eventually visiting the crash site.

"President Putin said he hoped the Ukraine president (Petro Poroshenko) would agree to a ceasefire to enable the entry of the investigation team into the site," Najib was quoted as saying.

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