BEIJING (Reuters) - Angry relatives of Chinese passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane protested on Tuesday outside the Malaysian Embassy, demanding an explanation from the airline and accusing the government in Kuala Lumpur of “cheating” them.
Dozens of family members chanted “Malaysian government has cheated us” and “Malaysia, return our relatives” as they marched peacefully and held banners. Police formed a human wall outside the embassy, preventing them from getting close to the building.
The relatives held signs that said: “MH 370, 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.
Photographs posted by Chinese media showed protesters holding banners that said: “Malaysia Airlines! You owe us an explanation.”
An Malaysian embassy official told Reuters by telephone that “we are still handling this matter, and have yet to release any information publicly”.
Earlier, a statement from family members had denounced the Kuala Lumpur government and its national carrier as “executioners”.
The emotions displayed by the relatives underscore a spreading backlash in China against Malaysia, a destination that had always been popular with Chinese tourists heading for the tropics, but whose government is now seen by many Chinese as having badly mishandled the crisis.
Most of those on board the scheduled Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight were Chinese.
Early on Tuesday, just hours after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the plane had crashed in the Indian Ocean, an unidentified family member read out a statement at the Beijing hotel where many of the relatives of those on board were staying, denouncing the airline, the Malaysian government and military for “constantly trying to delay, hide and cover up the truth”.
It was “an attempt to deceive the families of the passengers and an attempt to deceive the people of the world”, said the statement, which was later posted on a Chinese microblog by the “Malaysia Airlines MH370 Family Committee”.
In a later statement, the families said they would head to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing to “protest, seek the truth and the return of their family members”.
The families, in a statement, said they would “take all possible means” to pursue the “unforgivable guilt” of the airline, the Malaysian government and the military.
“These despicable acts have not only fooled and devastated physically and mentally the families of our 154 Chinese passengers, at the same time they have also misled and delayed the rescue operation, wasted a lot of manpower, material resources and lost the most precious time for the rescue efforts,” the unidentified family member told reporters.
“If our 154 loved ones on board have lost their precious lives on the plane because of this, then Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysia government and the Malaysia military are the real executioners who have killed our loved ones.”
Bad weather and rough seas on Tuesday forced the suspension of the search for any wreckage of the missing plane, which officials are now sure crashed in the remote Indian Ocean off Australia with the loss of all 239 people on board.
On Monday night, there were hysterical scenes at the hotel, with some of the relatives wailing and being carried out on stretchers.
Malaysia Airlines has promised to take the relatives to Australia, the focal point of the search.
Australian Defence Minister David Johnston said Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted to help the families, the majority of whom are from China.
“I know the prime minister is very, very concerned that we extend every possible courtesy,” Johnston told Fairfax radio.
“They have had an emotional rollercoaster for two weeks, my heart goes out to them. We will do everything we can to give them some semblance of closure, in what we now know is a very serious disaster.”
Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Joseph Campbell and Li Hui in BEIJING and Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Alex Richardson