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Asia-pacific

Relatives of lost passengers vent anger at Malaysia embassy

© AFP

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-25

Angry relatives and friends of many of the Chinese passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 tried to force their way past police at Malaysia’s embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, accusing the Malaysian government of “deception”.

The group, which was comprised of around 20 to 30 people, gathered outside the building, where they threw water bottles while demanding to meet the ambassador, witnesses said. Earlier in the day, many of the passengers’ relatives had linked arms, chanting “[the] Malaysian government has cheated us” and “Malaysia, return our relatives” as they marched peacefully and held banners.

The scenes of grief and anger came one day after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Boeing 777, which vanished more than two weeks ago en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, had crashed in the remote waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

Najib said new data left no doubt that the plane had gone down in the ocean, confirming that all 239 people on board, more than 150 of whom were passengers from China, had died. Following Najib’s announcement, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng demanded Malaysia hand over all relevant satellite analysis showing how Malaysia had reached its conclusion about the aircraft’s fate.

Meanwhile, search operations for the wreckage of Flight MH370 were suspended in the waters far off Australia’s western coast due to bad weather, despite a series of satellite images and other sightings that raised hopes that debris from the plane would soon be found.

Anger, grief

Malaysia’s confused initial response to the flight’s disappearance and a perception of poor communications has enraged many of the passengers’ relatives.

A group reportedly representing families issued a statement describing Malaysia Airlines, the government and military as “executioners” who constantly tried to delay and deceive them.

“We will take every possible means to pursue the unforgivable crimes and responsibility of all three,” said the statement on the microblog of the Malaysia Airlines MH370 Family Committee.

In Beijing, relatives protesting outside the Malaysian embassy held signs that read, “MH370, Don’t let us wait too long!” and “1.3 billion people are waiting to greet the plane”. They wore matching t-shirts that said, “Best of luck to MH370, return home safely.”

“We’ve waited for 18 days and still, you make us wait. How long are we supposed to hang on?” a woman surnamed Zhang told Reuters.

The protest ended after a few hours, when police told demonstrators to get on buses and escorted them away.

Criticism of the Malaysian national carrier mounted after some relatives of those on board first received the news that the search for survivors was over in an SMS from the airline, which said: “We have to assume beyond all reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and none of those on board survived.”

At a news conference at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport on Tuesday, company officials defended the move, saying the text message had only been sent as a “last resort” to ensure that some relatives did not hear the news first from media.

“This is a time of extraordinary emotions and we fully understand,” said Malaysia Airlines Chairman Mohd Nur Yusof. “In fact, we really feel for the next of kin. In terms of how they react, it’s emotional.”

Asked whether he would resign over the crisis, the airline’s chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said that would be a “personal decision” to be made at a later time.

Wreckage could provide clues

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off on March 8. No confirmed debris from the plane has been found since.

Investigators believe someone on the flight may have shut off the plane’s communications systems. Partial military radar tracking showed it turning west and re-crossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot.

Recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why the plane had diverted so far off course. Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.

An international air and sea search in the area on Monday spotted several floating objects that might be parts of the plane and an Australian navy ship was close to finding possible debris, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said gale-force winds, heavy rain and low cloud meant planes could not fly safely to the zone on Tuesday, and waves of 6 metres (20ft) or more forced the navy ship from the area.

The search site is far from commercial flight paths about 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, a region of deep, frigid seas known as the Roaring 40s where storm-force winds and huge waves are commonplace.

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that it would make arrangements to fly relatives to Australia once it had approval from the investigating authorities.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said his department was working with the airline and Beijing to facilitate visas. Relatives would be given tourist visas with the usual fees waived, he said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-25

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