POSTED: 03:32 a.m. HST, Mar 30, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 07:18 a.m. HST, Mar 30, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia >> Several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers on Flight 370 demanded Sunday that Malaysia apologize for its handling of the search for the missing plane and for the prime minister's statement saying it crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.
Holding up banners that read "We want evidence, truth, dignity" in Chinese, and "Hand us the murderer. Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back" in English, the group staged a protest at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur just hours after flying in from Beijing.
Two-thirds of the 227 passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur were Chinese, and the plane's disappearance has sparked broad outrage in China, with celebrities joining in and travel agencies announcing boycotts.
Flight booking website eLong said it was suspending Malaysia Airlines flight sales until the relatives are satisfied with the government's response. Last Wednesday, Chinese touring agency CYTS said it would stop offering tours to Malaysia because of safety concerns.
Even popular actress Zhang Ziyi spoke out. "Malaysian government, you have hurt the entire world. ... You have misjudged the persistence in seeking truth by the world's people, including all the Chinese," she wrote on her microblog.
The protesters Sunday repeatedly chanted slogans in Chinese: "We want evidence! We want the truth! We want our relatives!"
Jiang Hui, the relatives' designated representative, said they wanted a government apology for what they see as missteps in the initial handling of the disaster as well as Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement that indicated the plane had crashed with no survivors. Jiang said the relatives felt the conclusion was announced without sufficient evidence.
"We also request that Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government apologize for making the conclusion on March 24, without direct evidence or a sense of responsibility, that the plane was destroyed and people died," Jiang said.
He said the group wanted to meet with airline and government officials, although he stopped short of saying that included Najib, as earlier proposed by some relatives.
In Beijing, tensions are still high at a hotel where Chinese relatives have been meeting with Malaysian representatives. On Sunday, one woman asking questions called Malaysia Airlines "criminal suspects" to applause among the crowd of about 250 relatives.
Relatives asked why materials being shown to them, including PowerPoint presentations, were in English and not Chinese.
Najib went on television on March 24 to say that based on radar and satellite analysis, the Boeing 777 had crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, but there were lingering questions because there was no physical evidence.
That wariness on the part of the relatives was also fueled by missteps at the beginning of the search, which started in waters off Vietnam, then swung to areas west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then as radar and satellite information was further analyzed, to southwest of Australia and now to a second zone farther northeast.
"We hope that in these days, we can meet with technical teams involved in the search, and hold talks with Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government. We hope that these discussions will not be like they had been in Beijing, with wishy-washy answers," Jiang said.
Before the protest, Ong Ka Ting, the Malaysian prime minister's special envoy to China, went to the hotel to greet the relatives.
"I'm sure in Beijing they've already had a lot of discussions and we understand their feelings, and we know that definitely by coming over here there will be a lot more discussions and meetings," Ong said. "So we try our best to assist them."
Jiang said the relatives want the government to release information and data related to the investigation in a "prompt and comprehensive way." They also want the airline to set up meetings with representatives from Boeing, Rolls Royce and Inmarsat, saying the lack of interaction was troubling.
Roll-Royce built the plane's engines, and Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company, provided the satellite data that was used to plot the jet's final route.
Malaysia Airlines issued a statement saying it would fly family members to Perth, but only once wreckage is confirmed to have been found from the plane. It said a family assistance center would be set up in Perth.
Associated Press writers Scott McDonald in Kuala Lumpur, and Didi Tang and Louise Watt in Beijing contributed to this report.