July 23, 2014 08:01
Australia's prime minister is alleging a "coverup" amid tampering of evidence at the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies the crashed plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials.
Prime minister Abbott says Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has so far been "as good as his word" by approving a UN Security Council resolution guaranteeing safe access for international monitors at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
But Abbott, speaking to reporters in Canberra, complains about what has been happening amid the bodies and wreckage before investigators arrived.
He describes the most recent video from the scene as looking like a "building demolition."
"After the crime, comes the coverup. What we have seen is evidence of tampering on an industrial scale and obviously that has to stop," he said.
Malaysian officials have taken possession of the downed plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder. They were handed over by pro-Russia separatists who control the area where the Boeing 777 came down in pieces last Thursday. All 298 people aboard died.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak negotiated directly via telephone with a rebel leader to arrange the handover of the aircraft's so-called black boxes. He also says the agreement includes releasing all human remains and full access to the site by an international team.
"Only then can the investigation into MH17 truly begin; only then can the victims be afforded the respect they deserve," he said.
A White House spokesman, reacting to the Malaysian leader's active engagement with the separatists in Ukraine, called it "entirely understandable" considering the circumstances.
Malaysia lost 44 citizens (including 15 crew members) on the plane. The Netherlands had 198 of its citizens on the plane. At least 27 Australians were on the flight.
Those countries are joining the United States and Ukraine in blaming the crash on a surface-to-air missile fired by separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The degree of Russia's responsibility and involvement in a possible coverup are being intensely discussed in the diplomatic and intelligence communities.
Russia's ambassador to Malaysia, Lyudmila Vorobyeva, on Tuesday denied any such involvement of her government or that of the separatists.
"The rebels do not possess any defense systems that are capable of shooting a plane at the altitude of ten kilometers. They do not have this kind of systems. Russia has never supplied this kind of system," said Vorobyeva.
The ambassador says the West is playing games -- "blaming someone and accusing some parties without any evidence."
After the ambassador's remarks to reporters, several hundred protesters -- organized by the youth wing of Malaysia's largest political party (UMNO) -- gathered outside the Russian Embassy.
Placard-waiving demonstrators chanted "we want justice."
The downing of Flight 17 is the second tragedy this year for Malaysia and its flag carrier. Its Flight 370, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, vanished on March 8 after veering far off course and no trace of it has been found.
The back-to-back disasters have aviation analysts expressing skepticism the state-owned carrier will survive for long in its present form after three previous government bailouts.
The airline finds itself confronting fresh outage after confirming that one of its passenger jets flew over another war zone, Syria, just days after the MH17 disaster.
Flight 4 from London to Kuala Lumpur re-routed over Syria on Sunday following the closure of its usual path over Ukraine.
The airline, in a statement, says the route, was approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization and was not restricted airspace.
That is the same explanation the airline had following the shoot-down of Flight 17.
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