Melbourne: Australia today observed a national day of mourning for the victims of the MH17 crash, a day after experts suspended the search operation for body parts due to the deteriorating security situation in rebel-held Ukraine.
Prime Minsiter Tony Abbott, opposition leader Bill Shorten, dignitaries and families of victims attended the national memorial service which took place here at St Patrick Cathedral here this morning.
National flags were flown at half mast across the country to mark the day.
There were 38 Australian nationals and residents among the 298 people on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur as it was downed between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk. All 298 people were killed.
It is believed that flight MH17 crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from the rebel-held area.
Paying tributes to victims of MH17, Abbott said today was not the time to judge the guilty, but to honour the dead and grieve with the living.
“We cannot bring them back but we will bring them home as far as we humanly can,” he said.
“And we do rededicate ourselves today to supporting the bereaved, to obtaining justice for the dead and for their families and to working for a better world,” he said.
The day was observed a day after international experts suspended the search of body parts because of the deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine.
Abbott also paid tribute to the Australians working to bring the bodies of the victims home.
“Some of you I have spoken with. Your decency, resilience and compassion have been both humbling and uplifting,” he said.
In a statement ahead of the memorial service, Abbott said, “Today is a day of mourning and we will remember the 298 innocent people who died on Flight MH17.”
“We grieve for all of them, but particularly for the 38 who called Australia home. Today we will remember them and we will honour them,” he said.
Other dignitaries who attended the service were the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Dutch and Malaysian ambassadors.
Families of the victims were invited to lay floral tributes to pay tribute to their loved ones.
Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, said everyone was shocked and horrified by what happened in Ukraine but should now “walk with the families” and show them love and reassurance.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said, “This has been devastating for Victoria; 17 of the victims call Victoria home, and of course six of the delegates were on the way to the AIDS 2014 conference here in Melbourne.”