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Putin calls for peace talks in east Ukraine after MH17 plane shot down

The U.S. government alleges that the missile that brought down the plane was shot from 'separatist-held' part of Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that all parties in the conflict in eastern Ukraine should lay down their arms and engage in talks as soon as possible, one day after a Malaysian plane carrying 298 people was shot down as it flew miles above the country's battlefield — even as the U.N. Secretary General's office called for a "full and transparent international investigation." 

Both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia rebels in the east have blamed each other for shooting down the plane, but both sides deny responsibility. 

More details emerged Friday about the suspected origin of the missile: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Flight MH17 was "likely downed by a surface-to-air missile, SA-11, operating from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine." 

Obama reiterated that point later Friday in a press conference at the White House.

Power said that given the technical complexity of missile systems in the hands of separatist rebels, the U.S. "cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel."

"The context for yesterday's horror is clear. Separatist forces backed by the Russian government continue to destabilize Ukraine," Power told the Council.

But Russia's U.N. ambassador warned the Security Council against any attempts to prejudge an outcome to an investigation.

"There is a need for impartial, open investigation of what happened. Pressure should not be brought on this investigation, trying to prejudge its outcome with broad statements and insinuations that are unjustified in such a difficult situation," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.

Britain and the U.S. said the tragedy should serve as a wake-up call for Russia to stop supporting and equipping rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Obama called on Russia, pro-Russia separatists and Ukraine to adhere to an immediate cease-fire and not tamper with evidence on the ground. He also said that teams from the FBI and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were on their way to Ukraine to provide assistance. 

"The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine," Obama said. 

But on Friday, monitors from the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were not able to secure access to the site, as pro-Russia rebels reportedly said they would allow. OSCE said it would try again Saturday.

Earlier Friday Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on "all respective governments to participate in this investigation and to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime."

"This is a crime against humanity," he said.

'This is not an accident'

Amid the back-and-forth finger-pointing, emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners — dressed in overalls and covered in soot — spread out across sunflower fields and tiny Ukrainian villages on Friday, searching through the wreckage and marking the areas where dead bodies have been located. 

After a swift international outcry following the attack, Putin, according to Russian news agencies, said that "peace in Ukraine must prevail as soon as possible," calling for direct talks between Kiev and pro-Russian fighters.

All 298 people on board Malaysia Airline Flight 17, from nearly a dozen nations, are presumed dead. By midday, 181 bodies had been located, according to emergency workers at the sprawling crash site, where the Boeing 777 went down. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said the bodies will be taken to Kharkiv, a government-controlled city 170 miles to the north, for identification.

An assistant to Igor Girkin, the military commander of the pro-Russian group, said Friday, on the condition of anonymity, that eight out of the plane's 12 recording devices had been located at the crash site. He did not elaborate. Since airplanes normally have two main recording devices — a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder — it was not exactly clear what devices he was referring to.

Meanwhile, Alexander Borodai, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic," told journalists that he had ruled out a temporary truce with Ukrainian government forces but pledged to allow investigators access to the site of the downed plane. Borodai also said that no black boxes had been found. 

An angry Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday demanded an independent inquiry into the downing. At least 27 Australians were among the passengers on Flight 17.

"The initial response of the Russian ambassador was to blame Ukraine for this, and I have to say that is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory," Abbott said. "It's very important that we don't allow Russia to prevent an absolutely comprehensive investigation so that we can find out exactly what happened here."

"This is not an accident, it's a crime," he added.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to Abbott, saying, that "without bothering himself about evidence and operating only on speculation, Mr. T. Abbott assigned guilt. Abbott's statements are unacceptable." 

The crash site was spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine — Rozsypne and Hrabove — and access to it remained difficult and dangerous. The road from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, to the crash site was marked by five rebel checkpoints Friday, with document checks at each.

Fighting apparently still continued nearby. In the distance, the thud of Grad missile launchers being fired could be heard Friday morning. Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore Malaysia Airlines' red, white and blue markings lay strewn over one field. The cockpit and one turbine lay a half-mile apart, and residents said the tail landed another six miles away.

Airspace closed

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lay repeatedly insisted Friday that the airline's path was an internationally approved route and denied accusations that Malaysia Airlines was trying to save fuel and money by taking a more direct flight path across Ukraine.

"I want to stress that this route is an approved path that is used by many airlines including 15 Asia-Pacific airlines. We have not been informed that the path cannot be used," he said.

Malaysia's prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down.

Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued previous warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March. Within hours of the crash Thursday, several airlines announced they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.

On Friday, Ukraine's state aviation service closed the airspace over two regions currently gripped by fighting — Donetsk and Luhansk — and Russian aviation regulators said Russian airlines have suspended all transit flights over Ukraine. The corridor is an important one that many airlines use to get to southeast Asia. 

At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines updated its nationality count of passengers, saying the plane carried 173 Dutch, 24 Malaysian, 27 Australian, 12 Indonesian, nine British, four German, four Belgian, three Filipino and one person each from Canada and New Zealand. President Obama also said there was at least one U.S. citizen or dual citizen killed in the incident. 

Passengers on the plane included a large contingent of world-renowned AIDS researchers and activists headed to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. News of their deaths sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community.

For one Australian family, the Ukraine crash represented an almost unbelievable double tragedy.

Kaylene Mann's brother Rod Burrows and sister-in-law Mary Burrows were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 when it vanished in March. On Friday, Mann found out that her stepdaughter, Maree Rizk, was killed on Flight 17.

"It's just brought everyone, everything back," said Greg Burrows, Mann's brother. "It's just ... ripped our guts again." 

Al Jazeera and wire services. Lisa Stark, Phil Ittner, Rory Challands and Scott Heidler contributed to this report. 

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