(Updates with more details, quotes)
By Jane Wardell
SYDNEY, July 18 Australian Prime Minister Tony
Abbott said that if the downing of a Malaysian airliner over
eastern Ukraine was a deliberate act, then "it is an unspeakable
crime" and the perpetrators must be swiftly brought to justice.
Abbott said on Friday that he believed at least 23
Australians were on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam
to Kuala Lumpur.
Abbott was speaking shortly after the European head of
Malaysia Airlines said at least 27 Australians were
among the 295 passengers on the flight.
If the numbers are confirmed, Australians would represent
the second-largest national grouping, behind the Dutch, on the
plane that crashed on Thursday.
"It is a very, very sad time, made worse by reports that it
might be a crime rather than an accident," Abbott said.
Ukrainian authorities have accused "terrorists" - militants
fighting to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia - of shooting down
the Boeing 777-200. The rebels denied responsibility.
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".
"If it does turn out that this aircraft was brought down by
a surface to air missile, there is no doubt that this would be,
under those circumstances, an unspeakable crime and the
perpetrators should swiftly be brought to justice," Abbott said.
Abbott declined to be drawn on the reason for the crash,
saying all reports remained unconfirmed.
"We just have all sorts of reports and claims flying
around," he said. "That's all we have at the moment, reports and
Abbott said he planned to speak with Malaysian Prime
Minister Najib Razak later on Friday and that Australia would
deploy staff to Kiev to assist in an investigation.
Asked if he would still welcome Russian President Vladimir
Putin to Australia for the G20 Leaders Summit later this year if
Russia were proved to be behind the accident, Abbott hinted
there may be repercussions.
"That's a fair question, let's just wait and see exactly
what turns out to have happened here," he said.
"But obviously, it is the clear and settled decision of the
Australian government that larger countries should not bully
smaller ones, that countries should not aid people who are in
rebellion against their own government and that international
disputes should be settled peacefully in accordance with
Australia is hosting the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane in
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ken Wills)