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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers on Flight 370 demanded Sunday that Malaysia apologise for its handling of the search for the missing plane and for the prime minister's statement saying it crashed in 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 the country 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 apologise 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 airline and government officials, although he stopped short of saying that included Najib, as earlier proposed by some relatives.
Najib went on television on March 24 to say that based on radar and satellite analysis the plane 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 fuelled 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 analysed, 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 wanted the government to release information and data related to the investigation in a “prompt and comprehensive way.”
They also wanted the airline to set up meetings with representatives from Boeing, Rolls Royce and Inmarsat, saying the lack of interaction was troubling.
“It has been 22 days now and none of their people have shown up,” he said, referring to the companies.
“Could it be that there really are problems with the quality of their products? What are they worried about?”
Several dozen other relatives had flown to Kuala Lumpur shortly after the plane disappeared.
Other relatives have been meeting Malaysian officials in Beijing, where they also marched to the Malaysian Embassy to protest.
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 centre will be set up in Perth. - Sapa-AP