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Netherlands

Dutch mourn crash victims

The Netherlands observed a minute of silence to honor Dutch victims on flight MH17, which was apparently shot down over eastern Ukraine last week. Experts say identifying the crash's victims could take weeks.

The sidewalk in front of the Asian Glory restaurant in Rotterdam overflows with flowers: white lilies, carnations, and roses are among wreaths and candles. Friends, acquaintances and sympathetic restaurant guests have been laying down signs of their remembrance for the dead restaurant owners for a week now.

Head cook and owner Fan Shun Po, 60, and his wife, Jenny Loh, 55, boarded flight MH17 last Thursday (17.07.2014) with the intention of vacationing in Po's home city of Hong Kong, then paying a visit to relatives of Loh, Malaysia. Their son Kevin Fan, 30, stayed in Rotterdam - he lost both his parents, along with his grandmother Tan Siew Poh, 85, who was also on the flight.

Overwhelming condolences

The couple, who had gained a Michelin star for their Chinese restaurant, was well-known and well-liked in Rotterdam - Po had even been on a cooking show on Dutch television. Last Sunday, around 1,000 white-garbed mourners marched silently through the streets in remembrance.

Rotterdam's mayor, Ahmad Aboutaleb, said the successful couple would be missed. The surviving son isn't much interested in talking to the numerous visitors who have come calling - much less with journalists.

Flowers in front of Asian Glory restaurant in Rotterdam (Photo: Bernd Riegert, DW)

Flowers overflow in a spontaneous altar to the deceased restaurant owners

A close friend of the family standing at the door of the restaurant said the remaining family is doing okay. "They are strong. Of course, it was a shock, but the sympathy has just been overwhelming," said the young man, who asked to remain anonymous.

After a summer break, the restaurant is to reopen. "It's supposed to go on normally, somehow," he said.

A nation mourns

The Netherlands government declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the victims of MH17. The first such day, and most recent one, was in 1962 when Queen Wilhelmina died.

All Dutch people were called upon to take part in a minute of silence starting at 4:00 p.m. held to contemplate the victims of the crash. That was also when the first plane with the remains from the crash site was scheduled to arrive at the military airport in Eindhoven.

A coffin of one of the victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17 downed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, is carried from an aircraft during a national reception ceremony at Eindhoven airport July 23, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

Dutch people were shocked by the tragedy

As the minute struck, church bells all over the country began to ring. Flags were dropped to half-mast. At a busy intersection not far from Asian Glory, vehicular traffic continued as usual.

People could be seen inside some businesses watching the plane's arrival to Eindhoven on television screens. On the main street's sidewalk, people out and about remained still for the minute of mourning.

Lengthy identification process

Including Rotterdam resident Marlis Cornilsen, who got off her bicycle to observe the minute of silence. "Out of respect for the innocent victims," she explained after the minute had ended, going on to express disappointment that cars had continued driving during that time.

The Netherlands had the most victims on the downed Malaysia Airlines flight, with 193 of the 298 total dead. Ukraine has allowed Dutch specialists to take on the task of indentifying the victims.

It could be days or weeks until Fan Shun Po, Jenny Loh and Tan Siew Poh can be identified, after which Kevin Po intends for their remains to be transported to Malaysia for burial. Experts have also said many bodies will never be recovered, as they are believed to have burned up in a 1,000 degree Celsius (1,832 degree Fahrenheit) fireball during the crash.

People on sidewalk in Rotterdam observing the minute of silence (Photo: Bernd Riegert, DW)

Dutch people on this Rotterdam sidewalk remained still during the minute of silence

Punishment doesn't bring back dead

"I hope they find the people who are responsible," Cornilsen said. But she believes this will be difficult, given the international nature of the problem. She thinks Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte did well to promise not to rest until all those responsible have been tracked down and brought to justice.

Cornilsen also believes that it doesn't make much sense to send Netherlands military to the crash site, as is suggested in some conservative circles. "It's important to not start a war with this," she said. She added that she can understand the anger many people are feeling.

"But I am not angry, just sad," Cornilsen continued. "Punishing the people who did this will not make the dead come back to life."

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