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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Ukraine minister resigns over missile
Wreckage being removed from the crash site
The investigation yielded evidence of a missile hit
Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma has formally accepted the resignation of Defence Minister Olexander Kuzmuk, almost three weeks after a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile shot down a Russian airliner.

"I have accepted the minister's resignation and suspended other senior military officials," Mr Kuchma said in a nationally televised address on state television.

Leonid Kuchma
Kuchma suspended all missile launches
"All missile launches have temporarily been banned," he added.

The plane, a Sibir airlines Tu-154 flying to Siberia from Israel, exploded over the Black Sea on 4 October, killing all 78 crew and passengers on board.

According to a pilot who was flying nearby at the time of the accident there was an explosion on board the Tupolev plane before it plunged into the Black Sea.

Initially terrorism was suspected, but the finger of blame was soon being pointed at Ukraine's military who at the time were carrying out live missile exercises on the Crimean peninsula about 200 kilometres (125 miles) away.

Denials

Kiev denied for several days that a Ukrainian missile had caused the disaster.

But a team of Russian crash investigators found evidence among the wreckage salvaged from the Black Sea crash site that a Ukrainian S-200 missile had downed the plane and Mr Kuzmuk offered his resignation.

Relatives of the crash victims
Kuchma apologised to the relatives

In his television statement Mr Kuchma admitted that the crash had most likely been caused by a stray Ukrainian missile, but said that he would wait for the final report.

He apologised to the families of the victims of the disaster, mostly Israeli immigrants from Russia.

"We realise we must do everything we can to ease their loss," he said.

The disaster was the second time in 18 months that Ukraine's military have lost control of a live missile.

Last year, three people were killed in the town of Brovary when a rocket ploughed into their apartment block.

The defence ministry denied responsibility for several days until rescue workers found missile parts in the rubble.

See also:

10 Oct 01 | Europe
Ukraine to accept crash findings
08 Oct 01 | Europe
Ukraine: Missile strayed 80km
22 Apr 00 | Europe
Missile blasts Ukraine flats
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