Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Merkel urges quick Ukraine ceasefire, Russian cooperation

BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Friday for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine to facilitate a probe into the apparent downing of a passenger plane in the rebel-held east of the country.

Merkel said Russia in particular must do its part to bring about a "political solution" to the conflict in Ukraine, adding that Moscow bore responsibility "for what is happening" in the strife-torn country.

"What is important now is for an independent investigation to take place as soon as possible," Merkel told reporters, after expressing her sympathies to the families of the crash victims.

"For that, a ceasefire is needed, and then it is of course crucial for those responsible to be brought to justice."

Merkel said there were "many, many indications that the plane was shot down and that is why we must take this very, very seriously".

She called for a meeting of the so-called contact group comprised of Ukraine, Russia, Russian-backed rebels and the European security body OSCE to agree a "lasting, bilateral ceasefire".

She said it would be a "tough path" but there was "no reasonable alternative" to a negotiated settlement.

Merkel added that despite serious "differences" with Putin over Ukraine, she aimed to keep the lines of communication open.

Later she spoke by telephone in separate calls with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 189 people in the crash.

"All agreed that this tragedy must be quickly and thoroughly investigated with an independent probe," made possible by an immediate ceasefire, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

Seibert said that should it be proved that the plane had been shot down, the leaders agreed it would constitute "a further serious escalation of the conflict" in Ukraine.

"They also agreed that Russia should finally use its influence over the separatists clearly and publicly so that peace can have a chance," he added.

Germany has attempted to mediate in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and, despite close business ties with Russia, has repeatedly backed new EU sanctions against Moscow, the latest round of which passed this week.

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