Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The bodies of 20 Malaysian citizens, victims of last July's controversial air tragedy in Ukraine's airspace landed today in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
The whole country stopped to observe a minute's silence, in a national day of mourning called by the government to commemorate the tragedy that struck the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17; throughout the day all flags will be flown at half mast.
The plane was shot down over the Ukrainian skies, caught in the crossfire between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists. 43 citizens Malaysian citizens died, 15 of whom were members of the crew; a special flight brought home a first part of the victims.
The incident dates back to July 17, when the vehicle crashed between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region, and Shakhtarsk, in the neighboring Donetsk region. The aircraft, carrying 298 people, ended up in rebel-controlled territory of Ukraine, not far from the border with Russia. The Boeing 777 had departed from Amsterdam, Holland, and was bound for Kuala Lumpur. On board there were dozens of medical experts and researchers in the fight against HIV/AIDS who were heading to Australia to participate in an international conference.
According to investigations, the plane was shot down by a missile launched by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. However, they reject the allegations and blame the army of Kiev.
King Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, Prime Minister Najib Razak and other senior government officials were present at the airport to receive the bodies. They were flanked by a small Malaysians guard of honour, who marched in the direction of the aircraft and then escort the coffins, wrapped in the national flag. Three of the 20 bodies were cremated in the Netherlands in recent days. The major national newspapers, including The New Straits Times and The Star had banners of mourning published on their front pages.
This is the first time Malaysia is holding a national day of mourning for civilian victims. The honour has traditionally been accorded only to the royal family and heads of government. A spokesman for the airline says that there will be a prayer vigil open to the public, to pay homage to the victims. Malaysia Airlines speak of their "deep sorrow" for this "devastating tragedy" that has affected victims' families and friends.
For the second time in a few months a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was involved in a plane crash; on March 8 flight MH370, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, carrying 239 people, mostly Chinese, disappeared from radar. Despite an ongoing international search effort the aircraft is still untraceable. The plane is believed to have gone down in the South Indian Ocean, while travelling off course, in the opposite direction to its destination. The reasons for the change of course are still unknown. Neither is it known if this was the result of an accident or a hijacking by the pilot, although the hypothesis of an attack has been refuted.