BEIJING - Anguished relatives of Chinese passengers on the MH370 flight that went missing have taken to venting their frustration at their own government, despite China stepping up efforts to look for the plane.
The first official meeting between the government and the relatives took place yesterday but ended abruptly when the question-and-answer session degenerated into shouting and heckling.
"Don't leave! Answer our questions!" shouted one of the more than 200 relatives gathered in a packed meeting room at the Metropark Lido Hotel.
The Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Boeing 777-200 plane has been missing since it lost communication at 1.20am on Saturday, despite an international air-and-sea search operation involving several countries,
including Singapore. Of the 239 passengers and crew on board the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight, 153 are Chinese nationals.
Yesterday, four officials from the Foreign and Transport ministries as well as the Civil Aviation Administration of China began the meeting by trying to assure the relatives that their agencies have "dropped everything" to focus on the search.
The meeting soon turned chaotic when the families heckled the officials for being slow in engaging them and not doing enough in the search.
"Where have you been all this while?" one cried. "Tell us what the passengers' chances of survival are!" yelled another.
Other relatives pressed them for answers on whether the plane had been hijacked, given news reports that two passengers had used stolen passports. They also wanted the government to conduct the search on land, instead of just focusing on waters near Vietnam where the plane is believed to have crashed. Some said the mobile phones of their missing relatives rang when they dialled the numbers, indicating that the devices are on land.
The officials said there was as yet no proof of a terrorist act. They detailed the government's "all-out" efforts like deploying more naval ships - nine, at last count - and dispatching officials to Malaysia to help distraught Chinese citizens there. They said China was liaising with relatives instead of MAS after the Malaysian carrier came under public criticism for not giving timely or useful updates.
The officials hastily drew the meeting to a close after about 10 minutes, as the families shouted over them and jostled to get their attention.
Yesterday, Chinese media attacked MAS and the Malaysian government over the handling of Flight MH370. The Global Times, a tabloid under the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, said in an editorial that "the Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities".
"Until yesterday, it could not even ensure accurate information about the passengers. The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough. There are loopholes in the work of Malaysia Airlines and the security authorities," it said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a press briefing yesterday that China hoped Malaysia would understand the anxiety felt by the family members and speed up its investigation.
Meanwhile, some Chinese Internet users remained hopeful.
Netizen Wang Qi wrote on his Twitter-like Sina Weibo account as he posted photographs of planes landing at airports: "The skies are so beautiful. Hope you are safe...
"Let us not forget that the biggest luxury in life is to be able to hug your loved ones. MH370, we won't stop praying for you!"
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