MH17 relatives protest Russian actions with 298 empty chairs

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The families of people killed when a missile shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 set out 298 white chairs outside the Russian embassy on Sunday in a silent protest against Moscow’s lack of cooperation in the investigation into the downing of the passenger jet.

Each chair represented one of the victims who died when a Buk missile fired from territory held by pro-Russia separatist rebels shot down the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight on July 17, 2014, killing everybody on board. The families also held two minutes of silence on Sunday.

The protest came on the eve of the start of a Dutch trial for three Russians and a Ukrainian charged with murders for their alleged roles in the missile strike.

Russia denies involvement and has dismissed the international investigation that led to the four suspects being charged as being prejudiced against Moscow.

In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused investigators of presuming Russia’s guilt before the court hearing opens Monday and launching “media campaign” to support the case and whitewash alleged gaps in the evidence.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites its citizens. Russia continued to deny involvement, even after prosecutors alleged that the Buk missile system which destroyed the passenger plane was transported into Ukraine from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade’s base in Kursk and the launching system was then returned to Russia.

The Joint Investigaiton Team last year named four suspects: Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. None of them is expected to attend the start of the trial Monday in a courtroom near Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport from which the doomed flight took off.

The team examined the wreckage and body parts, questioned witnesses and experts, studied radar and satellite images and analyzed data and intercepted communications before indicting the four suspects.

Investigators said last year there was “almost daily telephone contact” between the self-proclaimed leaders of the pro-Russia rebel Donetsk People’s Republic “and their contacts in the Russian Federation” using secure phones provided by the Russian security service.”

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