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Flags at half-mast in Australia as Moscow snubs foreign minister

Flags flew at half-mast Saturday to honour the Australians killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash over Ukraine as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said it was “extraordinary” that Moscow would not speak with her.

The airliner carrying 298 people, including 28 Australians, came down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Thursday, with US officials saying it appeared to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday said the disaster was a crime, not an accident, and slammed Russia’s initial response as “deeply unsatisfactory” after calling in Moscow’s ambassador.

Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that her Russian counterparts had refused to speak with her over the crash.

She said she initially tried to touch base with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but was told he was on holiday.

“I then asked to speak to a deputy or a vice minister but I’ve now been told that I won’t be able to speak to anybody in the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow,” she said late Friday.

Bishop urged Russia to fall in line with the global community and back a swift probe into the downing of Flight MH17, after the UN Security Council issued a statement calling for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation”.

“We need an immediate, urgent, international investigation,” she told the Seven Network on Saturday.

“Australia welcomes the statement of the UN Security Council, but we need more.”

Abbott ordered flags to flown at half-mast across the country in tribute to those who died as family and friends of the Australian victims struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.

One Australian family has been hit particularly hard with relatives not only dying in the crash over Ukraine but also the Malaysia Airlines MH370 disaster earlier this year.

Maree and Albert Rizk, who were returning to Melbourne after a month-long holiday in Europe, were killed Thursday when MH17 went down.

Maree’s father is married to a member of a Queensland family which lost husband and wife Rodney and Mary Burrows on MH370 when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, Rodney’s brother Greg Burrows told AFP.

Burrows said he did not want to make a statement on behalf of the Rizk family, but said: “We’ve got no ill feelings with Malaysia Airlines.”

Another victim was much-loved Sydney nun Sister Philomene Tiernan, with about 200 people gathering on a cold Sydney morning to pay tribute to her Saturday.

“I can’t tell you how much she’ll be missed,” her friend Hilary Johnston-Croke told reporters of the woman who was returning from a sabbatical in France.

“She’s just so loved by our community.”