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News Wrap: MH17 victims reach first stop on journey home

July 22, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: It’s been five days since a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, and, today, 200 of the 298 victims reached the first stop on the way home.

Neil Connery of Independent Television News filed this report from Ukraine.

NEIL CONNERY, ITN: After a 17-hour journey, the train carrying the bodies of flight MH17′S victims finally arrived in Kharkiv, a former tank factory in the Soviet era turned into a makeshift morgue now offering some sort of sanctuary before the final journey home. There was at last here dignity for the dead.

One Malaysian official on board the train told me great care is being taken here.

COL. MOHAMED SAKRI, Malaysian National Security Council: They were taken from train to another — to the building because they’re going to make sure that it was kept properly.

NEIL CONNERY: Most of the victims from Flight MH17 are now finally under the protection of the Ukrainian and Dutch authorities in this site behind me. Their families have had to wait five long and agonizing days for this to happen, but they are now finally about to head home.

Back at the crash site, international observers say they fear the aircraft’s wreckage may have been tampered with.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, Spokesperson, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: The other day when we were at the cockpit section, when we were leaving, we did see workers using a diesel-powered saw to get a closer look at the fuselage. We can’t draw any conclusions. That’s not our role, but it’s an observation that we made.

NEIL CONNERY: The black box flight recorders were finally handed over to the Malaysian authorities by the pro-Russian militia in Donetsk in the early hours. They’re now being sent to air accident investigators in Britain to be downloaded, for the Dutch to then analyze them.

A small memorial service was held next to the wreckage. The 298 lives extinguished at 33,000 feet last Thursday were remembered by villagers. The bodies of those victims will leave this makeshift morgue behind these gates and return to the Netherlands tomorrow, each one laid in a coffin.

GWEN IFILL: Later, a European monitor said his team saw no sign of any attempt to recover the human remains still at the crash site. We will turn to the day’s diplomatic developments later in the program.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in other news this day, President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs promised today that he will work to sort out a scandal over health care delays. Former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald appeared at a Senate confirmation hearing. He said the challenges include long treatment delays, falsified appointment records and the VA’s very culture.

ROBERT MCDONALD, Secretary of Veterans Affairs-Designate: The department’s problems with access, transparency, and accountability, and integrity are all well-documented. There’s a lot of work to do to transform the department. It won’t be easy, but it is essential and it can be achieved. The seriousness of this moment demands action.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If McDonald is confirmed, he’d replace retired General Eric Shinseki, who resigned in May under mounting pressure. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Harry Reid said today there’s been some progress on congressional funding to address the VA’s problems.

GWEN IFILL: Researchers in the U.S. and Britain say they have taken a big step toward developing future drug treatments for schizophrenia. They reported today the largest ever genetic study of the disease has identified 108 DNA markers. Schizophrenia makes it difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. It affects one of every 100 people and in the U.S. alone costs about $60 billion a year to treat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, held his first meeting today with parents of girls abducted by Boko Haram militants in April. The meeting took place at the presidential villa in the capital, Abuja. Later, in a statement, Jonathan said his goal is to free the 219 girls still captive and to rout Boko Haram from Nigeria. But news reports say the insurgents overran more territory in the northeastern part of the country just in the past few days, an army base and surrounding villages.

GWEN IFILL: Election officials in Indonesia have declared a winner in the bitterly disputed presidential race. Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo won 53 percent of the vote. He celebrated with supporters today, and appealed for unity in the world’s third largest democracy. Earlier, though, the other candidate, former General Prabowo Subianto, withdrew from the contest and charged it was all a sham.

PRABOWO SUBIANTO, Former Presidential Candidate, Indonesia (through interpreter): There has been a massive fraud, structured and systematic in the 2014 elections. In consideration of this, we, the presidential candidate, Prabowo Subianto and running mate Hatta Rajasa, will use our constitutional rights to reject the 2014 election.

GWEN IFILL: Despite that claim, the defeated candidate opted against challenging the results in court.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dozens of police were rounded up in Turkey today, accused of spying on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others. They were charged with using a corruption probe as a cover. In another development, Erdogan said he no longer speaks directly with President Obama. He told a TV interviewer it’s because the U.S. failed to take stronger action in Syria.

GWEN IFILL: In South Korea, police announced they have found the country’s most wanted fugitive, the man whose family owned the ferry that sank in April. The decomposed body of Yoo Byung-eun turned up in a farm field more than a month ago, but it took lab tests to confirm the identity. Yoo disappeared after the ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people. Investigators do not suspect foul play in his death.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, Detroit’s plans to shed debt and emerge from bankruptcy have won a big boost from active and retired city employees. An overwhelming majority of them voted to accept pension cuts, as part of the effort to cut the city’s long-term debt of $18 billion. A federal bankruptcy judge holds a hearing next month on approving the city’s plan.

GWEN IFILL: On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 61 points to close at 17,113. The Nasdaq rose 31 points to close at 4,456. And the S&P 500 added nearly 10 to finish at 1,983.