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Restrained Dutch mark air tragedy in sorrow rather than anger

Politicians, media avoid knee-jerk accusations as Government seeks international inquiry

Published: Updated:

The Dutch nation mourned at least 173 citizens lost in the Ukrainian air disaster in sorrow rather than anger on Friday, holding back from immediately pointing the figure of blame.

In a country which values restraint and avoids public displays of strong emotion, politicians and media stuck largely to reflecting sombrely on those who died when the Malaysian jet came down on Thursday, including some noted citizens.

“The whole of the Netherlands is in deep mourning,” said Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “This is one of the worst air disasters in Dutch history.”

More than half the 298 victims aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 heading from Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur were Dutch, a loss keenly felt in a country of just of 15 million people.

While Dutch and world leaders demanded an international investigation into the crash over the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine, the nation steered clear of rapidly accusing any of the sides of shooting the jet down.

Leaders of the pro-Russian rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have denied involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet brought down the intercontinental flight.

Dutch media stuck largely to factual news and background reports which avoided apportioning blame. National television broadcast live from outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev, showing a carpet of flowers laid by Ukrainians in sympathy.

It also showed a smaller spread on the steps of the country’s embassy in Moscow. One accompanying note carried an Orthodox Christian cross and the one-word message in English: “Sorry.”

At home, flags were at half-mast across the country in memory of the dead. Among the victims were a large contingent of researchers heading to an international AIDS conference in the Australian city of Melbourne.

Joep Lange, considered one of Europe’s leading AIDS experts, was aboard the flight, accompanied by his long-time collaborator and partner Jacqueline van Tongeren.

AIDS activist Pim de Kuijer was also among the victims. “Pim was someone who always wanted to do the right thing. For human rights, for gays ... We lost somebody who wanted to make the world a better place,” said his friend Marcel Duyvestijn.

A member of the upper house of parliament, senator Willem Witteveen, was also on the flight, the Dutch news agency ANP reported.

Site access

Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten said the Netherlands was pressing for access to the crash site, which lies in an area where the separatist rebels are fighting government forces.

“Nobody wants to learn through the media that their loved one has died,” he told a news conference, adding that the government aimed to send a forensics team to identify the victims before repatriating them. “Family and friends of victims are being told what has happened and are now being gathered.”

In the French city of St Etienne, riders of the Dutch Belkin team observed a minute’s silence and wore black arm bands before Friday’s stage of the Tour de France cycle race.

At Schiphol Airport, life was returning to normal, with passengers checking in for Friday’s flight MH17 to Kuala Lumpur. Some expressed nervousness before the journey.

“I guess I will go with my gut feeling,” said Angela Molina, as she and her son Tristan waited to fly reluctantly to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur. “I don’t want to go on ... He doesn’t want to go on either,” she said of her son.

A Dutch airliner was involved in the world’s worst civilian aviation disaster when KLM and Pan Am jets collided on the ground at Tenerife airport in 1977, killing 583 people.