MH17: Dutch king and queen to lead day of mourning

THE king and queen of the Netherlands will lead mourners as the first victims of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 disaster are repatriated from the Ukraine today.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander, left, signs a condolence register as Queen Maxima looks on. Picture: AP

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima will be in Eindhoven with relatives of the 298 people - including 10 Britons - killed when the Boeing 777-200 was apparently shot down by Russia-backed separatists over eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

The Dutch government had declared today a national day of mourning.

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An unconfirmed number of bodies were released by the rebels yesterday and taken to the government-controlled city of Kharkiv by train.

Two military aircraft will fly some of them to Eindhoven this afternoon, where they will be met by the royals, prime minister Mark Rutte and relatives.

The Netherlands government said a minute’s silence will be held before a motorcade takes them to the Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks, where the process of identifying them will begin.

Mr Rutte warned yesterday that this may not be a quick process, saying: “This may happen rapidly, but I have to caution you that it could also take weeks or even months.”

The Dutch are leading the investigation into what happened to the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight, at the request of the Ukrainian government.

A British team of police officers, led by the Metropolitan Police, will assist with victim identification in the Netherlands once bodies have arrived.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is to retrieve data from the flight recorders for “international analysis” after a request from the Dutch government.

The European Union yesterday inched towards introducing economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russian “cronies” in response to the passenger jet’s downing by a surface-to-air missile fired by the separatists that the Kremlin backs.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed “concrete proposals” to draw up a list of the Russian president’s associates who would be subject to punitive measures, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

The first names will be considered at a meeting tomorrow, where ministers will also look at broader sanctions such as arms embargoes and access to capital and hi-tech goods.

Mr Cameron has openly criticised a “reluctance” on the part of some European nations to take stronger action against Moscow, saying it would be “unthinkable” in the UK to go ahead with a French deal to sell helicopter carriers to Russia.

But MPs have warned that Britain is itself continuing to export tens of millions of pounds worth of arms and other dual-use military equipment to Russia.

The Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls said that 251 export licences for the sale to Russia of controlled goods worth at least £132 million remained in force.

Despite a promise in March by the then foreign secretary William Hague to stop military sales to Russia which could be used against Ukraine, it said that just 31 licences had been revoked or suspended while Russia had been removed as a permitted destination on three others.

The Conservatives also faced calls from Labour to hand back more than £900,000 of donations from what the Opposition said were people with links to the Russian government or “who may be hit by the sorts of sanctions” sought by the PM.

The list includes £160,000 bid in an auction by the wife of a former minister in Mr Putin’s government for a game of tennis with Mr Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Labour MP Sheila Gilmore said: “The Tories need to come clean about all their Russian links. There can be no impression of conflicts of interest or hypocrisy at such an important time.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “All donations to the Conservative Party are fully and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and published on their website.”