By Thomas Escritt and Robin Emmott
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch nation mourned 189 citizens lost in the Ukrainian air disaster in sorrow rather than anger on Friday, and Prime Minister Mark Rutte held back from pointing the figure of blame.
In a country which values restraint and avoids public displays of strong emotion, politicians and media stuck largely to reflecting sombrely on those who died when the Malaysian jet came down on Thursday, including some noted citizens.
"The whole of the Netherlands is in deep mourning," said Rutte. "This is one of the worst air disasters in Dutch history."
More than half the 298 victims aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 heading from Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur were Dutch, a loss keenly felt in a country of just 15 million people.
While Dutch and world leaders demanded an international investigation into the crash over the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine, the nation steered clear of rapidly accusing any of the sides of shooting the jet down.
Leaders of the pro-Russian rebels' self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic have denied involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet brought down the intercontinental flight.
Rutte also played down any expectations that the Netherlands would immediately be pushing for tougher European Union economic sanctions against Russia or the Ukrainian separatists.
"If I bang my fist against the table now ... then I reduce the chances of the Netherlands and all those who support us getting the facts on the table," he told a news conference in The Hague.
A Dutch official close to the investigation told Reuters that Rutte's approach was to be cautious in his wording "in contrast to some foreign leaders".
The official did not name the leaders, although U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the downing of the airliner apparently was "not an accident" and that it was "blown out of the sky". Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that if the crash had been due to a deliberate act, then "it is an unspeakable crime".
Rutte said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone on Friday that he wanted to see Moscow cooperate with the inquiry.
"Putin emphasised that he, too, is in favour of an independent and broad, international investigation, which I value greatly. At the same time ... we will have to see in following days from the practical actions whether that will actually happen."
Dutch officials are pressing for access to the crash site, which lies in an area where the separatist rebels are fighting government forces. Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans will travel to Ukraine on Friday evening with a team of Dutch investigators. The government aims to send a forensics team to identify the victims before repatriating them.
FLAGS AT HALF MAST
Dutch media stuck largely to factual news that avoided apportioning blame. National television broadcast live from outside the Dutch embassy in Kiev, showing a carpet of flowers laid by Ukrainians in sympathy.
It also showed a smaller spread on the steps of the country's embassy in Moscow. One accompanying note carried an Orthodox Christian cross and the one-word message in English: "Sorry".
Flags were at half-mast across the Netherlands, and King Willem-Alexander and his Argentinian wife were among the prominent public figures who signed a book of condolence.
Among the victims were a large contingent of researchers heading to an international AIDS conference in the Australian city of Melbourne.
Joep Lange, considered one of Europe's leading AIDS experts, was aboard the flight, accompanied by his long-time collaborator and partner Jacqueline van Tongeren.
AIDS activist Pim de Kuijer was also among the victims. "Pim was someone who always wanted to do the right thing. For human rights, for gays ... We lost somebody who wanted to make the world a better place," said his friend Marcel Duyvestijn.
A member of the upper house of parliament, senator Willem Witteveen, was also on the flight, the Dutch news agency ANP reported.
In the French city of St Etienne, riders of the Dutch Belkin team observed a minute's silence and wore black arm bands before Friday's stage of the Tour de France cycle race.
At Schiphol Airport, life returned to normal with passengers checking in for Friday's flight MH17 to Kuala Lumpur. Some expressed nervousness before the journey.
"I guess I will go with my gut feeling," said Angela Molina, as she and her son Tristan waited to fly reluctantly to Melbourne via Kuala Lumpur. "I don't want to go on ... He doesn't want to go on either," she said of her son.
A Dutch airliner was involved in the world's worst civilian aviation disaster when KLM and Pan Am jets collided on the ground at Tenerife airport in 1977, killing 583 people.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Robin Emmott; editing by David Stamp)
- Kuala Lumpur