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Thursday, July 24, 2014
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In Ukraine, the body count keeps rising

Friday, July 18, 2014 - Updated: 10:07 AM

ROZSYPNE, Ukraine (AP) -- Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners spread out today across the sunflower fields and villages of eastern Ukraine, searching the wreckage of a jetliner shot down as it flew miles above the country's battlefield.

The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations -- including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.

U.S. intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, but could not say who fired it. The Ukraine government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels they are fighting and the Russia government that Ukraine accuses of supporting the rebels all deny shooting the passenger plane down. Moscow also denies backing the rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a cease-fire today in eastern Ukraine and urged the two sides to hold peace talks as soon as possible. A day earlier, Putin had blamed Ukraine for the crash, saying the government in Kiev was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. But he did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and did not address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released a video purporting to show a truck carrying the Buk missile launcher it said was used to fire on the plane with one of its four missiles apparently missing. The ministry said the footage was filmed by a police surveillance squad at dawn today as the truck was heading to the city of Krasnodon toward the Russian border.

There was no way to independently verify the video.

Ukraine has called for an international probe to determine who attacked the plane and the Unites States has offered to help. But access to the sprawling crash site remained difficult and dangerous. The road from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, to the crash site was marked by five rebel checkpoints today, with document checks at each.

By midday, 181 bodies had been located, according to emergency workers in contact with officials in Kiev. Malaysia Airlines said the passengers included 189 Dutch, 29 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one person each from Canada and New Zealand.

Still Nataliya Bystro, a spokeswoman for Ukraine's emergency services, said rebel militiamen were interfering with the recovery operation.

Separatist rebels who control the crash site issued conflicting reports today about whether they had found the plane's black boxes or not.

"No black boxes have been found ... we hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened," said Donetsk separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai.

Yet earlier today, an aide to the military leader of Borodai's group said authorities had recovered eight out of 12 recording devices.

Since planes usually have two black boxes -- one for recording flight data and the other for recording cockpit voices -- it was not clear what the number 12 referred to.

Borodai said 17 representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation and four Ukrainian experts had traveled into rebel-controlled areas to begin an investigation into the attack.

Ukraine's state aviation service closed the airspace today over two border regions gripped by separatist fighting -- Donetsk and Luhansk -- and Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine.

An angry Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott demanded an independent inquiry into the downing.

"The initial response of the Russian ambassador was to blame Ukraine for this and I have to say that is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory," he said. "It's very important that we don't allow Russia to prevent an absolutely comprehensive investigation so that we can find out exactly what happened here. This is not an accident, it's a crime."

The crash site was spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine -- Rozsypne and Hrabove -- and fighting apparently still continued nearby. In the distance, the thud of Grad missile launchers being fired could be heard this morning.

In the sunflower fields around Rozsypne, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border, lines of men disappeared into the thick, tall growth that was over their heads. One fainted after finding a body. Another body was covered in a coat.

In Hrabove, several miles away, huge numbers of simple sticks, some made from tree branches, were affixed with red or white rags to mark spots where body parts were found.

Ukraine Foreign Ministry representative Andriy Sybiga said the bodies will be taken to Kharkiv, a government-controlled city 270 kilometers (170 miles) to the north, for identification.

Among the debris were watches and smashed mobile phones, charred boarding passes and passports. An "I (heart) Amsterdam" T-shirt and a guidebook to Bali hinted at holiday plans.

Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline's red, white and blue markings lay strewn over one field. The cockpit and one turbine lay a kilometer (a half-mile) apart, and the tail landed 10 kilometers (six miles) away. One rebel militiaman in Rozsypne told The Associated Press that the plane's fuselage showed signs of being struck by a projectile.

     

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