Family members of the 239 people travelling on flight MH370 tried to storm the Malaysian embassy in Beijing and threw water bottles at the building as they demanded more detailed explanations from authorities in Kuala Lumpur over the fate of their loved ones.
A day after the Malaysian prime minister stated that the plane had crashed in a remote part of the Indian Ocean west of Australia, the protest highlighted the ongoing frustration and anxiety of the families who have been waiting more than a fortnight for answers, as well as the increasingly strained ties between Malaysia and China.
As authorities narrowed the search area for the fuselage after new analysis from the British satellite firm Inmarsat, Beijing demanded to see the raw data which led to Monday’s confirmation by Najib Razak that the plane had crashed into the sea somewhere west of Perth.
That announcement unleashed a storm of sorrow and anger among the families of the plane’s passengers and crew –two-thirds of them Chinese.
Family members of the passengers have complained bitterly about a lack of reliable information and some say they are not being told the whole truth.
Nearly 100 relatives and their supporters marched yesterday to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, where they threw plastic water bottles, tried to rush the gate and chanted, “Liars!” Many wore white T-shirts that read “Let’s pray for MH370” as they held banners and shouted: “Tell the truth! Return our relatives!”
Other signs brandished by the group read “MH370, Don’t let us wait too long!” and “1.3 billion people are waiting to greet the plane”. There was a heavy police presence at the embassy and some officers briefly scuffled with a group of relatives who tried to approach journalists.
One woman, who gave her name as Zhang, said: “We’ve waited for 18 days and still you make us wait. How long are we supposed to hang on?” The protest ended after a few hours, when police ordered protesters to board buses before escorting them away from the embassy.
The disturbances came as a group reportedly representing families issued a statement describing the Malaysian airline, 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 Malaysia Airlines MH370 Family Committee website.
In a clear statement of support for the families, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered a special envoy, vice foreign minister Zhang Yesui, to Kuala Lumpur to deal with the case.
Deputy foreign minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia’s ambassador that China wanted to know exactly what led Mr Razak to announce that the plane had been lost, a statement on the ministry’s website said.
Ill feeling towards Malaysia Airlines grew after some relatives first received the news that the search for survivors was over in a text message from them.
The message, sent to some family members on Monday, stated: “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 yesterday, the airline’s 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 the media.
Mohammed Nor Mohammed Yusof, the airline’s chairman, said: “This is a time of extraordinary emotions and we fully understand. 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.