SYDNEY (AFP) – The loss of a second Malaysia Airlines plane within six months left Asia-Pacific nations shocked and saddened Friday, prompting calls for a full investigation and a day of mourning in Australia.
All 298 people on board Flight MH17 en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam died when the plane crashed near a Ukrainian village Thursday, leaving a trail of carnage on the ground. American officials believe it was shot down over Ukrainian airspace.
Among those on the plane were 12 Indonesians, and that country’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said if the plane was shot at with military weapons, it was a violation of international law and “even the laws of war”.
“Because of this, if the investigation proves that this is what did indeed happen, Indonesia hopes those responsible are sanctioned and handed a heavy punishment,” he said in a televised press conference.
He urged Indonesians to avoid flights over war and conflict zones, including Ukraine, the Ukraine-Russia border and the Gaza Strip.
Australia, which said 28 of its nationals were onboard the doomed flight, also wants a full investigation, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott urging Russia to cooperate fully with any inquiry.
“As things stand this looks less like an accident than a crime,” Abbott told parliament, following an emergency meeting of the government’s national security committee.
Abbott, who called it a “grim day for our country”, said flags would be flown at half mast on Saturday on all government buildings as a mark of respect.
A service marking a national day of mourning would be held at a later time “when the families of those who have lost their lives have had time to comprehend this horrific event”, he added.
– Calls for secure site access –
“Shocked and saddened to hear about the crash,” said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his Facebook page.
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it stood in solidarity with its neighbour Malaysia, which is still reeling from the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 due to unknown causes in March.
That plane, which was carrying 239 people, is thought to have crashed in the Indian Ocean but no sign of it has yet been found.
“It is important that a full and transparent investigation take place to establish what caused the crash,” the ministry said of the latest incident.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully also called for a full investigation as he confirmed one citizen, normally resident in Australia, was on MH17 and had been travelling with her Dutch husband.
A British woman who was a long-time resident of New Zealand was also among the victims, he added.
“We call for independent investigators to be allowed access to the crash site,” McCully said in a statement.
Japan’s prime minister held a meeting of his National Security Council in the wake of the crash, and offered Tokyo’s help to pinpoint the cause.
“The cause must be determined, and the international community must clarify what happened,” Shinzo Abe told reporters.
Japanese leaders expressed shock at the fatal accident.
“If the Malaysian airliner was actually shot down, the international community needs to strongly condemn such a flagrant act,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement.
He also emphasised the need for “secure access” to the site.
Most onboard MH17 were Dutch, but there were also 43 Malaysians, nine Britons and four Germans amongst others.