Hrabove (Ukraine): Another 21 bodies have been found in the sprawling fields of east Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed last week, killing all 298 people aboard.
Local rescue workers had piled 21 black body bags by the side of the road in Hrabove early today. It was unclear how quickly they would be transported to refrigerated railcars in the nearby town of Torez, where the other bodies are being held.
MH17 crash site. File Pic/AFP
Last night, Ukraine's emergency services agency said the total number of bodies found was 251. Pro-Moscow rebels piled nearly 200 bodies from the downed Malaysian jetliner into four refrigerated boxcars today in eastern Ukraine, and cranes at the crash scene moved big chunks of the Boeing 777, drawing condemnation that the site was being tampered with.
The pressure has been growing on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the US and others say has backed and armed the rebels, to rein in the insurgents in Ukraine and allow a full-scale investigation.
Putin lashed out against those criticisms today, accusing others of exploiting the crash in east Ukraine for "mercenary objectives." Putin said Russia was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency, to investigate the scene. "We can say with confidence that if fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened," Putin said.
"Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives." In an opinion piece for the Sunday Times, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there was a "growing weight of evidence" suggesting that the rebels shot down the plane. If that was the case, Cameron said that was "a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country lost 28 citizens in the tragedy, said Putin "said all the right things" during their telephone conversation about ensuring an international investigation into the disaster. "I'm now going to try to ensure that as far as Australia humanly can, we insist upon these things happening," Abbott told Sydney Radio 2GB today. "The site is being treated more like a garden cleanup than a forensic investigation, and this is completely unacceptable."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 192 citizens on the plane, told a news conference that repatriating the bodies was his "No. 1 priority." Rebel leader Alexander Borodai denied the rebels were trying to tamper with evidence, saying the bodies would be turned over to a team of Malaysian experts he was expecting. "The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive," Borodai said in the rebel-held city of Donets