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Pompeo ups pressure on Russia over four MH17 accused

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Moscow must ensure that those charged with murder over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 face justice, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, after international investigators accused three Russians and a Ukrainian over the disaster.

The trial of the four men with military and intelligence links will start in the Netherlands in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals.

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They would be the first people to face justice over the catastrophe five years ago in which 298 people died.

But Moscow slammed the “absolutely unfounded accusations” over the downing of the plane, which was travelling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels.

The Dutch-led inquiry team on Wednesday said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.

AFP / John SAEKI, Adrian LEUNG, Gal ROMA 2014 shooting down of MH17

Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”

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“We won’t demand their extradition because Russian and Ukrainian law forbids the extradition of their nationals. But we ask Russia once more to cooperate — many of our questions remain unanswered,” he told a press conference.

The same investigation team said in May 2018 that the BUK anti-aircraft missile that hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.

Pompeo welcomed the charges, saying: “We call upon Russia to… ensure that any indicted individuals currently in Russia face justice”.

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– ‘Waiting for five years’ –

Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 also welcomed the news.

“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters. “I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.”

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AFP / MOHD RASFAN Relatives of passengers and crew have waited for five years for a trial

Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: “Mr (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”

Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP that it was “very important news”.

“The relatives of the victims have been waiting for this for nearly five years,” he said.

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Girkin, 48, is the most high-profile suspect, having previously been the self-proclaimed defence minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine before apparently falling out with the Kremlin.

Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved. “I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Dubinskiy, 56, who was formerly in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, was head of the intelligence service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, while Pulatov, 52, an ex-soldier in the GRU’s Spetsnaz special forces unit, was one of his deputies.

AFP/File / Menahem KAHANA MH17 was travelling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels

Kharchenko was a military commander in Donetsk at the time, the Dutch prosecutors said.

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During the press conference by the investigators, number of telephone intercepts were played that they said showed the four were involved.

– ‘Absolutely unfounded’ –

Russia vehemently denied all involvement, and complained that it had been excluded from the probe.

“Once again, absolutely unfounded accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

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AFP / Alexander KHUDOTEPLY The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West

Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.

Despite claims by Ukraine’s government and Dutch media that senior Russian officers would also face charges, none were named by the prosecutors on Wednesday.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, representing the countries hardest hit by the disaster.

The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Russia to “acknowledge its responsibility”.

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The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.

Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.


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Vote-splitting fears raised in final days of Canada election

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In the dying days of what Justin Trudeau described as one of the "nastiest" election campaigns in Canadian history -- with plenty of mudslinging, attack ads and misinformation -- he played up fears on Thursday of vote-splitting handing victory to his rival Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives.

Policy announcements gave way to calls to vote strategically to keep Trudeau's Liberals in power and prevent a rollback of his progressive policies by the Tories.

Pollsters predict a minority government -- either Liberal or Conservative -- resulting from the October 21 ballot.

Attack ads accused Liberals of seeking to legalize hard drugs and the Tories of allowing assault rifles on Canadian streets -- claims that are flat out wrong or exaggerated, respectively.

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Japan emperor to proclaim enthronement in ritual-bound ceremony

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Japan's new Emperor Naruhito will formally proclaim his ascension to the throne next week in a ritual-bound ceremony, but the after-effects of deadly typhoon will cast a shadow over proceedings.

Naruhito officially assumed his duties as emperor on May 1, a day after his father became the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in 200 years.

But the transition will not be complete until his new role is officially proclaimed on Tuesday, in a series of events expected to be attended by foreign dignitaries from nearly 200 countries.

The event will come just over a week after Typhoon Hagibis slammed into Japan, killing nearly 80 people and leaving a trail of destruction.

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US imposes tariffs on EU goods, targeting Airbus, wine and whisky

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The United States imposed tariffs on a record $7.5-billion worth of European Union goods on Friday, despite threats of retaliation, with Airbus, French wine and Scottish whiskies among the high-profile targets.

The tariffs, which took effect just after midnight in Washington (0401 GMT), came after talks between European officials and US trade representatives failed to win a last-minute reprieve.

The WTO-endorsed onslaught from US President Donald Trump also comes as Washington is mired in a trade war with China and could risk destabilising the global economy further.

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