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Australian prime minister remains determined to meet Russian president over MH17 disaster

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday that he remained determined to secure a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand full cooperation in the investigation into the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

In a joint news conference with Abbott, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte revealed that investigators had retrieved more human remains this week from the rebel-held site in eastern Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down on July 17 with the loss of 298 lives, mostly Dutch and including Australians.

He announced recently that a team of Dutch, Ukrainian and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe rescue workers last week safely reached the area where the Boeing 777's wreckage is scattered and retrieved an unspecified number of human remains.

The tragedy was at the top of the agenda in meetings Thursday among Rutte, Abbott and the Australian Cabinet.

Abbott said he would hold a bilateral meeting with Putin as soon as possible either at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' summit in Beijing on Nov. 9-10 or a week later in the Australian city of Brisbane where Australia will chair a G20 meeting of leaders of wealthy and developing countries.

"One way or another, I will take the chance to speak to the Russian president sometime over the next week or so," Abbott told reporters.

PHOTO: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, address the media with Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a joint press conference at parliament house in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, address the media with Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a joint press conference at parliament house in Canberra, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Russian officials ridiculed Abbott's threat last month to "shirtfront" Putin — using an Australian football term for a head-on shoulder-charge to an opponent's chest — and insisted that Abbot would have no opportunity since no bilateral meeting had been scheduled.

Abbott said Thursday that he and Rutte were united in expecting full Russian cooperation with the Dutch-led investigation.

"We don't want the investigation ridiculed; we don't want the investigation compromised or sabotaged," Abbott said.

Rutte said he gave Putin a similar message on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, summit last month in Milan, Italy.

"I used the opportunity again to tell him that I expect him to do everything he can to put pressure on the separatists to allow unhindered access to the crash site," Rutte said.

During the meeting with Putin, Rutte said he compared the disaster to the Russian nuclear submarine K-141 Kursk which sank with the loss of all 118 lives aboard in the Barents Sea in 2000 and was salvaged by a Dutch consortium.

Rutte said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak would also try to meet Putin during the APEC summit.

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