(Updates with comments from academic in seventh paragraph. For more on Flight 370, see EXT3.)
March 25 (Bloomberg) -- Family members and friends of passengers on the missing Malaysian jet protested in front of the country’s embassy in Beijing as anguish gave way to anger upon learning there’s no hope their loved ones are alive.
About 200 people marched to the Malaysian embassy, which was protected by guards and paramilitary police. Many protesters wore white T-shirts with “Pray for MH370” printed on them.
“Give us our families back,” they chanted in unison. Some held up placards addressed to the missing plane’s passengers such as: “Mom, you cook the best food in the world.” One man’s sign read: “The wedding ring is purchased. I want to put it on your finger.”
The relatives were last night brought to the hotel ballroom to watch on television as Malaysian officials concluded the Boeing 777-200ER disappeared into the southern Indian Ocean, leaving no hope of survivors. Wails and screams punctuated that meeting, and at least two relatives were carried away on stretchers while police guarded the entrance.
They earlier today accused Malaysian Airline System Bhd. and the southeast Asian nation’s leaders of a cover-up. Confusing information about Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, “misled and delayed the rescue, wasting tremendous manpower and resources as well as the most precious rescuing time,” said one man reading from a statement while surrounded by about 30 family members at 2 a.m. in Beijing’s Metropark Lido Hotel.
Malaysian Air said it revealed its conclusion to the families first before making a statement to the media. The carrier is providing support to more than 900 relatives, it said.
“Right now, the understandable anguish appears to be not evolving into full and widespread anger,” Russell Leigh Moses, dean of academics at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, said by e-mail. “The real critical point will be in a few more days, if there’s a sense that the Chinese government isn’t pushing Malaysia harder.”
Xie Hangsheng, a vice Chinese foreign minister, summoned the Malaysian ambassador late yesterday to demand that Malaysia provide the data on which it based its conclusion, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said.
“If the 154 passengers lost their precious lives, then Malaysia Airline, Malaysian government and Malaysian military are the true executioner of our families,” the relatives said in the early-morning statement.
Frustration has mounted for passengers’ family members over the slow pace with which officials have released information on Malaysian Air’s plane, now missing for 18 days. Analysis of satellite data rules out the possibility the plane may have flown north over land and that “its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean” west of Australia, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday.
Najib’s pronouncement may have been intended to counter criticism that Malaysian officials have been too reticent to share details of the search, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group, a consultant based in Fairfax, Virginia.
“It’s not much closure, but it’s better than none at this point,” Aboulafia said in a telephone interview.
That’s proven elusive for Li Bo, 40, a Heilongjiang native whose cousin -- an only child -- was on the missing plane. He lashed out at photographers who clamored to take his picture outside the ballroom, cutting his arm in the melee.
“There is no evidence,” Li said after watching Najib’s televised statement in the Lido ballroom. “If you have evidence of something floating on the sea we can accept it. But now there is nothing.”
The conclusion that the plane was lost at sea, drawn from a new analysis by satellite operator Inmarsat Plc and British air safety regulators, isn’t credible, Li said in an interview. “You can’t make a judgment based on Malaysia’s data.”
Steve Wang, who participated in the protest, echoed Li’s comments. “I just can’t accept that they simply concluded that it crashed based on a theory,” he said outside the embassy.
Family members have turned to Weibo, a Chinese-language social media site similar to Twitter, to express their anguish and response to events that have mystified the world.
At the Beijing hotel, relatives said they “protest and condemn” the inaction by Malaysian officials. “We will take all possible means to prosecute Malaysian Airlines, Malaysian government and Malaysian military unforgivable guilt and responsibility,” they said.
Public protests are strictly controlled in China.
Hours after the statement was read out, the passengers’ relatives and friends boarded three buses, then got out and walked as they approached the embassy.
An old man wept as they prepared to leave the hotel. “Where is my family? Where are they?”
After demonstrating in front of the embassy for about an hour, the relatives returned to the hotel where they were due to meet the Malaysian ambassador and a Chinese official, according to Li Bo.
--With assistance from Xin Zhou in Beijing.