Debris is strewn at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, near the village of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters
World leaders called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine on Friday and demanded speedy access for international investigators to the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner shot down over the country's battlefields.
The strong words came amid the contrasting images of emergency workers and off-duty coal miners fanning out across picturesque sunflower fields searching for charred pieces of wreckage from the Boeing 777.
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The attack Thursday afternoon killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations — including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.
U.S. President Barack Obama called for an immediate ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatists. He also called for a credible investigation.
"The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out," Obama said at the White House.
U.S. intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the UN Security Council in New York on Friday the missile was likely fired from a rebel-held area near the Russian border.
In Toronto on Friday, Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander condemned the downing of the jet as "a brutal act of terror" after visiting the family of Andrei Anghel, a 24-year-old Ajax, Ont., medical student who died in the crash.
Earlier in the day, a Canadian statement to the UN Security Council stated that Canadians "are increasingly convinced that this is not only a tragedy, but also very likely the result of an outrageous crime" amid "mounting evidence" the airliner was brought down by a surface-to-air missile.
"Canada calls on all parties to the conflict in Ukraine to co-operate fully with an international investigation into this incident," the statement said. "Both Ukrainian authorities and international experts must be permitted full and secure access to the crash site, and must be provided access to all relevant data and evidence pertaining to the downing of this aircraft."
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U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki reiterated a call on Friday to grant "unfettered access" to investigators at the crash site, noting that a 75-minute period a team of monitors was able to spend there was inadequate.
Thomas Greminger, the Swiss ambassador with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said the team of 17 monitors would try again on Saturday for more access.
"They did not have the kind of access that they expected. They did not have the freedom of movement that they need to do their job," Greminger told Reuters.
The Ukrainian government in Kyiv, the separatist pro-Russia rebels they are fighting and the Russia government that Ukraine accuses of supporting the rebels all denied shooting the plane down. Moscow also denies backing the rebels.
After holding an emergency session, the UN Security Council called for "a full, thorough and independent international investigation" into the downing of the plane.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said both sides in the Ukrainian conflict should put down their weapons and hold peace talks. On Thursday, Putin blamed Ukraine for the crash, saying Kyiv was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. But he didn't accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and didn't address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released a video purporting to show a truck carrying the Buk missile launcher it said was used to fire on the plane with one of its four missiles apparently missing. The ministry said the footage was filmed by a police surveillance squad at dawn Friday as the truck was heading to the city of Krasnodon toward the Russian border.
There was no way to independently verify the video.
Ukraine's state aviation service closed the airspace Friday over two border regions gripped by separatist fighting — Donetsk and Luhansk — and Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine.
Access to the sprawling crash site remained difficult and dangerous. The road into it from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, was marked by five rebel checkpoints, with document checks at each.
"No black boxes have been found … we hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened," Donetsk separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai said.
Yet earlier Friday, an aide to the military leader of Borodai's group said authorities had recovered eight out of 12 recording devices. Since planes usually have two black boxes — one for recording flight data and the other for recording cockpit voices — it wasn't clear what the aide was referring to.
The crash site was spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine — Rozsypne and Hrabove.
It wasn't immediately clear what the pro-Russians would do with the flight recorders, which are key to determining what happened to the plane.
The UN Security Council's emergency session Friday is reportedly to include a briefing by the UN's political affairs chief, as investigators work to determine what happened leading up to the deadly crash.
Ukraine has said several of its planes and helicopters have been shot down in four months of fighting in the region, including an An-26 on Monday and an Su-25 fighter on Wednesday by an air-to-air missile — Kyiv's strongest accusation yet of direct Russian involvement.
The Ukraine government, the separatist pro-Russia rebels in the east, and the Russia government believed to be supporting the rebels, all deny shooting the Malaysian passenger plane down.
"The preponderance of evidence … is that the Russian-backed militia fired a rocket, not intending to wipe out a Malaysian plane, but intending to wipe out a Ukrainian plane — and they got the wrong plane," said former CBC correspondent Brian Stewart, now a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto.
"And I think the Russian government is probably upset by this and deeply perturbed by it. But it has, however, happened, and it has to be faced."
Smashed watches and mobile phones, charred boarding passes and passports were among the debris.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed Kyiv's accusations that Moscow could be behind the attack.
"Regarding those claims from Kyiv that we allegedly did it ourselves: I have not heard a truthful statement from Kyiv for months," he told the Rossiya 24 television channel.
He also said Russia has no intention of getting its hands on the plane's black boxes and added they should be given to international aviation organizations.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lay insisted again Friday that the airline's path was an internationally approved route and denied accusations the airline was trying to save fuel and money by taking a more direct flight path across Ukraine.
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