Eindhoven (Netherlands), July 23 (Reuters): The bodies of the first victims from a Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine last week arrived back in the Netherlands today amid dignified grief tinged with anger.
Bells pealed and flags flew at half mast in memory of the 298 people killed when flight MH-17 crashed in an area of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists.
King Willem-Alexander and Prime Minister Mark Rutte led dignitaries on the tarmac as two military aircraft carrying 40 plain wooden coffins landed at Eindhoven Airport in the southern Netherlands. A military honour guard stood to attention as a lone trumpeter played The Last Post, the military funeral call for people killed in war.
After a minute’s silence — observed in stations, factories, offices and streets across this stunned nation — soldiers and marines boarded the Dutch Hercules C-130 and Australian Boeing C-17 to carry the coffins to 40 waiting hearses lined up on the runway. Relatives of some of the victims were present at the airport but were shielded from the media glare, officials said.
Amid US accusations that the rebels shot the civilian plane down in error with a Russian-supplied missile, an opinion poll showed an overwhelming majority of the Dutch want economic sanctions imposed on Moscow, even if it hurts their own economy.
Windmills around this low-lying coastal nation were set in a mourning position and church bells tolled as the planes carrying the remains arrived from Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine, shortly before 1400GMT. The remains of an unknown number of victims were transported in refrigerated rail carriages from the rebel-held part of Ukraine on Tuesday. Rutte said it may take months to complete the task of identifying the bodies.