Airport groundstaff walk past Malaysia Airlines planes parked on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on June 17, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashes in eastern Ukraine

Airliner crashes with 298 people on board.

This story has been updated - see below.

A Boeing-777 jetliner with 295 people on board has crashed in eastern Ukraine near the village of Grabovo, near the border with Russia, according to Reuters. Eyewitnesses in the area claim that it was shot down by a ground-to-air missile, but as of yet this is unconfirmed.

The flight, Malaysia Airlines 17, was five hours into a journey from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Russian news agency Interfax broke the news, which was later confirmed by other sources, including a Reuters journalist on the ground who has reported "burning wreckage and bodies on the ground". Despite the claims that the plane was shot down, nobody has come forward to take responsibility. 

The Ukrainian government has said that its military did not fire at the plane, while blaming "terrorists" and pro-Russian separatists. The president of Malaysia, Mohd Najib Tun Razak, has said that an investigation has been opened into the incident. Russia president Vladimir Putin and US president Barack Obama were reportedly in the middle of a phone conversation when news of the crash emerged.

Other airlines have reported that their planes will avoid the airspace over eastern Ukraine. This is the second incident involving a Malaysia Airlines flight this year, after the disappearance of Flight MF370 in March.

UPDATE [18/07/2014 - 10:55am]: The airline has clarified that there were 298 passengers on MH17. Three small infants were not included in the original count.

A full passenger list has not been released yet, but it is understood that 173 Dutch nationals, 27 Australians, 44 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians and nine Britons were on the flight, with 15 of the Malaysian nationals making up the flight's crew. More than a hundred of those on board were heading to Australia for the 20th International Aids in Melbourne, Australia - the global HIV/Aids research and prevention community is in shock and mourning.

The plane crashed in territory currently held by pro-Russian separatists from the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, and there are unconfirmed reports that one of its militia groups has recovered a black box recorder from the crash site and intends to hand it over to Moscow for analysis. An official Ukrainian government rescue group has recovered the other black box from another part of the site. The separatists have issued a statement via the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to say they will "close off the site of the catastrophe and allow local authorities to start preparations for the recovery of bodies", and provide access to and cooperation with national and international investigation teams.

Both the separatists and the Ukrainian government have blamed each other for shooting down MH17. The Ukrainian authorities have released what it claims is intercepted telephone conversations between separatist militia leaders and soldiers discussing shooting down a plane in the area and at the time that MH17 crashed. 

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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The US election is now a referendum on the role of women

Melania Trump's recent defence of her husband's indefensible comments, shows why a Cinton victory is vital.

Maybe one day, when this brutal presidential election is over, Hillary Clinton will view Melania Trump with sympathy. The prospective Republican First Lady’s experience sometimes seems like an anxiety dream rerun of Clinton’s own time stumping for job of wife-in-chief back in 1992. Even before Bill Clinton had the Democratic nomination, rumours about his infidelities were being kicked up, and in a bid to outflank them, the Clintons appeared in a joint interview on the CBS current affairs show 60 Minutes. “I'm not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she said, the extreme humiliation of her situation registering as perhaps the tiniest flicker across her perfectly composed face. “I'm sitting here because I love him and I respect him.”

Another decade, another TV interview, another consort to a nominee called on to defend her husband’s honour. After the release of Donald Trump’s grotesque “grab her by the pussy” comments from 2005, Melania headed out to do her wifely duty. But where the Clintons in 1992 had the benefit of uncertainty – the allegations against Bill were unproven – Melania is going up against the implacable fact of recorded evidence, and going up alone. Even leaving aside the boasts about sexual assault, which she’s at pains to discount, this still leave her talking about a tape of her husband declaring that he “tried to fuck” another woman when he was only newly married.

What Melania has to say in the circumstances sounds strained. How did she feel when she heard the recordings? “I was surprised, because [...] I don't know that person that would talk that way, and that he would say that kind of stuff in private,” she tells CNN's Anderson Cooper, giving the extraordinary impression that she’s never heard her husband sparring with shock-jock Howard Stern on the latter’s radio show, where he said this kind of thing all the time.

She minimises the comments as “boys talk” that he was “egged on” to make, then tries to dismiss women’s allegations that Trump behaves precisely as he claims to by ascribing their revelations to conspiracy – “This was all organized from the opposition.” (Shades here of Clinton’s now-regretted claim of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her own husband during the Lewinsky scandal.) “I believe my husband. I believe my husband,” she says, though this is a strangely contorted thing to say when her whole purpose in the interview is to convince the public that he shouldn’t be believed when he says he grabs pussies and kisses women without even waiting because when you’re a celebrity you can do that.

Melania’s speech to the Republican convention bore more than a passing resemblance to elements of Michelle Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention in 2008, but in fact Melania is working to a much, much older script for political wives: the one that says you will eat platefuls of your husband’s shit and smile about it if that’s what it takes to get him in power. It’s the role that Hillary had to take, the one that she bridled against so agonisingly through the cookie-competitions and the office affairs and, even in this election cycle, Trump’s gutter-level dig that “If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

Clinton soldiered through all that, in the process both remaking the office of First Lady and making her own career: “a lawyer, a law professor, first lady of Arkansas, first lady of the United States, a US senator, secretary of state. And she has been successful in every role, gaining more experience and exposure to the presidency than any candidate in our lifetime – more than Barack, more than Bill,” as Michelle Obama said in a speech last week. It was a speech that made it stirringly clear that the job of a First Lady is no longer to eat shit, as Obama launched into an eloquent and furious denunciation of Donald Trump.

A Trump win, said Obama, would “[send] a clear message to our kids that everything they’re seeing and hearing is perfectly OK. We are validating it. We are endorsing it. We’re telling our sons that it’s OK to humiliate women. We’re telling our daughters that this is how they deserve to be treated.” She’s right. From the moment Clinton was a contender for this election, this wasn’t merely a vote on who should lead the United States: it became a referendum on the role of women. From the measly insistences of Bernie Sanders voters that they’d love a woman president, just not the highly qualified woman actually on offer, to commentators’ meticulous fault-finding that reminds us a woman’s place is always in the wrong, she has had to constantly prove not only that she can do the job but that she has the right even to be considered for it.

Think back to her on that 60 Minutes sofa in 1992 saying she’s “not some little woman standing by her man.” Whatever else the Clinton marriage has been, it’s always been an alliance of two ambitious politicians. Melania Trump makes herself sound more like a nursemaid charged with a truculent child when she tells Cooper “sometimes say I have two boys at home, I have my young son and I have my husband.” Clinton has always worked for a world where being a woman doesn’t mean being part-nanny, part-grabbable pussy. Melania says she doesn’t want pity, but she will receive it in abundance. Her tragic apologetics belong to the past: the Clinton future is the one Michelle Obama showed us.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.