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Netherlands in mourning after 154 Dutch die in Ukraine crash

wreckageAMSTERDAM--The Dutch prime minister on Thursday ordered that flags fly at half mast at government buildings across the country after the death of at least 154 of his country's citizens in what he said might be the worst air disaster in the Netherlands' history.

The Dutch were among 295 passengers and crew, including three infants, aboard a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that crashed while crossing above the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting forces controlled by the government in the capital Kiev.

The United States believes a surface-to-air missile brought down the airliner, an incident that sharply raises the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels. One U.S. official said Washington strongly suspected the missile was fired by Ukrainian separatists backed by Moscow.

There is no evidence Ukrainian government forces fired a missile, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second U.S. official said the origin of the missile was unclear. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Detroit, said the passenger jet apparently was "blown out of the sky".

Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight.

Speaking at Schiphol Airport after interrupting his holiday in southern Germany on news of the crash, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a "black day" for the Netherlands.

"The whole of the Netherlands is in mourning," he said. "This beautiful summer day has ended in the blackest possible way."

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was operating as a code-share flight with the Dutch flagship carrier KLM, was also carrying at least 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians, 11 Indonesians, six Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one Canadian.

The 15 flight crew - two captains, two flight officers and 11 cabin crew - were all Malaysian citizens. The nationalities of a further 47 were as yet unknown.

Malaysia Airlines' Europe vice president Huib Gorter told reporters that relatives would be provided with support if they requested it and could be flown from Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur to Kiev if they so wished.

"You cannot imagine what's happening to these people right now," he said. "They are our main concern."

For more on this aviation disaster see pages 26-27.

St. Maarten celebrates 12th International Day of Justice

PHILIPSBURG--July 17 marked International Justice Day. The day, which is observed worldwide, celebrates justice. The day came in to existence twelve years ago, on the day that a treaty was signed for the instatement of the International Court of Justice, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson explained.

A ceremony had been organised at short notice, however, members of the Ministry of Justice, who organised the event, were successful in putting together a parade followed by a dignified ceremony that brought across the value that St. Maarten places on the concept of justice.

The event started with a parade in which members of the St. Maarten Police Force, the Coast Guard, Customs and the Prison Service, including the new recruits who are still in training, marched from the Police Station through Back Street and Front Street to Captain Hodge Wharf, where the ceremony was held. The officers looked impeccable and drew admiring glances from many tourists.

A ceremony then started in the presence of Acting Governor Reinold Groeneveldt, President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson and other dignitaries such as Member of Parliament (MP) George Pantophlet, Minister Cornelius de Weever and chiefs or acting chiefs of the law enforcement services.

Master of Ceremony Kelly Busby of the Ministry of Justice invited all present to stand for the St. Maarten Song. Most of those present sang along, with some people singing in harmony, creating a stunning effect.

Pastor Illidge led opening prayers, with the central message that justice for all means peace, happiness and tranquillity for all.

He was followed by Detective Inspector Denise Jacobs of the St. Maarten Police Force, who acted as chief in the absence of Peter de Witte and Carl John, who were off-island. She stated that International Justice Day was a day to celebrate with joy, but also a day to reflect on what can be improved.

She stated that the police force was concerned about the current situation of crime, which appears to have spiked in the last weeks. However, she stated, police will continue to fight crime, and are committed to keeping St. Maarten safe. She reflected back to 10-10-10, where, she said, the police had some staff, some buildings and some funding, but no support.

Many projects were formulated, despite the fact that more people and more funding were not forthcoming. Creativity and hard work focusing on projects paid off. When work needs to be done, the people of St. Maarten show commitment and solidarity, she said. "We have the best forensics in the region, we have community policing and we are working towards intelligence-based policing."

Jacobs highlighted the need to have more structure in case of calamities, maintain and tighten relations with partner agencies, adhere to international standards and keep up with the changes around us.

"When it comes to the work, we are one," she concluded as she addressed all members of the law enforcement family.

Director of the Justice Cabinet Ron van der Veer said that the members of the justice family should be proud of what has been achieved so far. He reminded those present that we can celebrate this day because we live in a free and democratic society, where the rule of law is supreme.

Van der Veer mentioned the efforts of the St. Maarten Police Force and the National Detectives, the improvement of the Prison and Customs Services, the cooperation between the Court of Guardianship and the Parole Board, and the cooperation with the Coast Guard, the Royal Marechaussee and the Netherlands Royal Marines.

He mentioned that we have lived at peace with our French neighbours for four centuries, and work closely together with them in law enforcement. Despite everyone working together to ensure peace, safety and justice, there is always room for improvement. "We should be honest about our mistakes and try to improve ourselves."

Van der Veer reminded everyone that justice is not something that happens automatically, and must not be taken for granted. "We should always keep in mind how fragile justice is," he said. "You will not get it for free."

He finished his speech with a quote from The Bible: "When a man walks with integrity and justice, happy are his children after him."

Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson, aptly named "the gatekeeper of justice" according to Kelly Busby, wished everyone a happy Justice Day. He said he was made aware of the day just a week ago, and relied on his staff's talent of improvisation to organise an event at short notice. He said he remembered the improvisation skills of the people of St. Maarten after Hurricane Luis.

Richardson went on to explain the background of the celebration, and mentioned that there had been a spike in crime over the last few months. Crime begins at home, he said. "There are people who think this is an island of easy pickings, a push-over, with a lack of technology. That is not the case. St. Maarten is not a push-over."

Richardson referred to a number of successful arrests recently, including that of Romanian skimmers. He stated that people work many hours with a lot of commitment. "You can't predict when something will happen," he said. "But you can create an environment in which youths don't have to resort to crime."

Richardson mentioned that those in law enforcement have to work with limited resources. "I am appreciative of people working in law enforcement," he said, "I applaud you. The rule of law prevails." He then mentioned the situation in Aruba, where Prime Minister Mike Eman has to go to the ultimate to force the Kingdom Government to go by the rule of law, calling it a sad situation. "There is no excuse for the Kingdom Government not to abide by the law. Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten should join hands," he said.

He also applauded the public of St. Maarten for its cooperation with law enforcement, and urged them to keep coming forward with information.

The speeches were followed by a ceremony of recognition for people who celebrated jubilees within law enforcement. Certificates were given out to a large number of people who had served St. Maarten for 25, 30, 35 and even 40 years. Amongst the recipients were cousins Ademar Doran, chief of the National Detectives, and Anthony Doran, chief of Customs, with 25 years' service each, Police Inspector Rudolf Bloeiman with 30 years' service, and Head of the Mobile Unit of the Immigration Service Geronimo Juliet and Head of Operations of the Coast Guard Wendell Thode, with 35 years' service each. Sylvia Gibbs, Carlton Philips and Sheryl Peterson were awarded for 40 years' service.

A mention was made about a number of award recipients who were not present at the ceremony, as they were in the process of taking part in the police controls, which continued throughout the day, before the ceremony was concluded with a hot buffet lunch.

Questions in Second Chamber about Statia vote against Isabella

THE HAGUE--Members of the Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber of Socialist Party (SP) and Party for Freedom PVV have posed questions to Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk concerning the motion against new Government Representative Gilbert Isabella, which was unanimously adopted by the Island Council of St. Eustatius on Tuesday.

In the motion, all Island Council members stated they had no confidence in the newly appointed Government Representative for Bonaire, Statia and Saba.

SP Member of Parliament (MP) Ronald van Raak wanted to know how Minister Plasterk would respond to the motion.

The Island Council was against Isabella because he was considered inexperienced and unable to handle the specific problems of the Caribbean Netherlands.

It was also stated that the agreed procedure leading to Isabella's appointment was not followed.

Van Raak wants the minister to respond to the critique and also wanted to know if the Island Council of Saba and Bonaire were still in support of the new Government Representative.

"Which consequences does the unanimously adopted motion have for the position of the newly appointed Government Representative?" he asked.

PVV leader Geert Wilders and fellow party member Sietse Fritsma also posed a number of pointed questions concerning the controversial Government Representative.

The PVV fraction in the Second Chamber is highly critical of the appointment of the former Utrecht alderman, who is a member of Dutch government coalition partner labour PvdA. Minister Plasterk is of the same party affiliation.

PVV called Isabella a "dysfunctional, controversial former alderman" and labelled his appointment as "nepotism."

"How many dysfunctional and/or corrupt PvdA members have to be put in a job annually?" PVV asked.

PVV also asked Minister Plasterk to ensure that Isabella would never set foot in Bonaire, Statia or Bonaire, unless for vacation purposes.

Plasterk wants report on Aruba within days

ARUBA--Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk wants an interim report on the financial situation of Aruba within a few days. While the island's private sector social partners have expressed concern over the continued "Mexican standoff" and hunger strike by Prime Minister Mike Eman (AVP), member of the Second Chamber of Parliament in The Hague Wassila Hachchi says the Netherlands is "using a cannon to shoot a mosquito."

"Considering the acute situation in Aruba the governor has now been asked if the investigators can come with a quick-scan that is expected in a matter of days," the Kingdom Relations Department stated on Thursday.

Together with other opposition parties CDA and SP, D66 is trying to get the Parliamentary Kingdom Relations Committee to send a letter to the Council of State asking about the lawfulness of the instruction to Governor Fredis Refunjol not to sign the budget and have it investigated. The Rutte-cabinet isn't willing to seek the council's opinion as Eman had requested.

Hachchi: "All this doesn't bring us one step closer to resolving the issue. Plasterk should get on a plane and go make a gesture. They are closing the door and the matter is escalating. A prime minister on hunger strike in our Kingdom; that's just not right is it?"

Meanwhile, the Aruba Trade and Industry Association (ATIA), the Chamber of Commerce and various labour unions are worried about the current impasse and urge a fast solution. The representatives of employers and workers also stated such in a meeting with the governor.

Sarah sends words of comfort to Dutch

PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams has expressed condolences to the Dutch Government and people on behalf of St. Maarten on the death of a large number of Dutch citizens who were on board a Malaysia Airlines flight that went down in Ukraine on Thursday.

"Our thoughts are with the friends and families of those that were affected by this horrible tragedy," Wescot-Williams said in a press statement from her cabinet.

At least 154 Dutch citizens were on the Boeing 777 that left Amsterdam en route to Malaysia. The aircraft was carrying a total of 295 people.

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