BEIJING (USA TODAY) – In the tightly policed Chinese capital, where street protests are rarer than a day without smog, over 150 relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane defied police obstruction and staged an angry protest Tuesday outside the Malaysian Embassy.
Meanwhile in Perth, Australia, officials said the search resumed Wednesday morning with 12 aircraft seeking any signs of MH370 in a 50,000 square mile area of the south Indian Ocean that is the latest focus of recovery efforts.
Weather conditions were improved after high winds, heavy seas and poor visibility forced a suspension of the search a day earlier.
At the relatives' Beijing hotel, a larger group later clashed with the Malaysian ambassador to China, cursing and threatening him for his refusal to answer even basic questions, and his nation's failure to provide "truth" about flight MH370 that Chinese relatives believe Malaysia is concealing.
Over two weeks of anguish and frustration climaxed Monday night when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said satellite analysis indicated the plane was lost in the southern Indian Ocean, with no survivors among the 239 passengers and crew, although no wreckage has been identified.
Since the March 8 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared, with 153 Chinese citizens on board, their relatives gathered at the city's Lido Hotel have regularly threatened to protest at the embassy against what they view as lies and incompetent search efforts by the airline and Malaysian authorities.
Despite Monday's long-dreaded news, many relatives remained unconvinced and demand harder evidence before they abandon all hope. They turned their anger and emotion into action Tuesday, donning T-shirts that said "Pray for MH370," and holding up placards, printed overnight, that bore slogans such as "Give us back our relatives" and "You owe me the truth."
If the protest had official approval, or was at least being tolerated, police appeared to have second thoughts as they stopped buses full of protesters from leaving the hotel. After some negotiation, the relatives set off on foot for a mobile protest that remains highly unusual in Beijing, China's hyper-sensitive political center that routinely crushes unapproved public activity.
They marched for about two miles to the Malaysian embassy where hundreds of police closed off adjacent roads and restricted public access. Several ambulances arrived and stretchered off at least one relative who collapsed on the warm, smoggy spring day.
In front of the Malaysian Embassy, the protestors hurled insults and plastic bottles, chanted "liars", and tried and failed to rush the embassy gate. Some placards revealed who they were missing. "Mama's cooking is the most fragrant," read one; "I've already bought the diamond ring, just waiting to put in on you," said another.
The relatives demanded an embassy representative receive a copy of their highly critical statement, drafted late Monday, which blamed Malaysia for wasting crucial days during the rescue effort, and said the "the real executioners" were Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and military.
During the two-hour protest, a junior embassy official finally emerged to accept the statement. "That was rude. Where is the ambassador and the other officials? Only the second secretary came out, they show no respect to us," said Steve Wang, 25, whose mother, 57, was on the flight.
A similar perceived slight sparked Tuesday's protest, Wang said, after the Malaysian Ambassador, Datuk Iskandar Sarudin, failed to show at the relatives' daily morning meeting with Malaysian representatives at the Lido.
"We seek the truth. Maybe it will take some days, maybe some months, maybe some years. We will seek for it," said Wang, one of 20 volunteers serving on the relatives' organizing committee.
"I think it was ridiculous," Wang said of the government's announcement that the plane is lost. "There's no evidence, you can't find anything, it's just analysis, not data from the GPS. I don't think it is true... They are hiding so many things."
Several relatives clashed with police at one point as they tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access for foreign and domestic media whom police were keeping away from the protest. Although China's state-run state media traditionally avoid reporting on sensitive issues such as protest, several Internet news sites carried live coverage Tuesday. Major newspapers including the Beijing News and the Bejing Youth Daily covered their front pages Tuesday with solemn reports on the plane's loss and several urgent questions that raised doubts about Malaysia's conclusions.
While outsiders may wonder why China's citizens are blaming Malaysia for this as yet unexplained crash, onlookers in Beijing offered sympathy Tuesday.
"Their relatives are missing. None of us can understand, and no one can blame them for reacting like this," said Bess Zhao, 33, a teacher applying for a visa at the nearby U.S. Embassy. "There is no criminal to blame, but they have to have a target. It's quite natural. They just got the news last night. It's very hard to deal with that emotion.''
Police pressured the protestors to board six public buses and return to the hotel's ballroom for a meeting with the ambassador. During a volatile, two-hour session, he stood before 300 relatives as they cursed him in colorful ways. Some shouted "kneel down" others cried out "kill him".
After he read a statement, the relatives quickly grew angry, raising their placards. One woman had written "hate" on her "Pray for MH370" t-shirt. Some relatives asked him if the airline had negotiated with people during the flight, as many here believe it was hijacked. "Our relatives are safe on an island," shouted one man.
"For two hours, he was silent. We want some evidence," complained Wang, who said the relatives' committee would decide whether to stage another protest Wednesday. A technical delegation from Malaysia will meet with relatives Wednesday to discuss the evidence, said the ambassador.
Although Wang lives in Beijing, he is staying at the hotel with his father, to be closer to official information, and to help others through the committee. "I want my mother to go back", he said, repeating the Chinese phrase 'falling leaves return to their roots'.
Chinese officials, from the State Council, China's "cabinet", the police, and the transport and civil aviation ministries, later called on relatives to be polite and law-abiding. They said their government is working hard to search for the wreckage, and that China's leaders Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are demanding more information from Malaysian authorities.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal quoted an Inmarsat official, senior vice president Chris McLaughlin, saying its satellite detected a final partial ping or transmission from the missing plane "for reasons not understood.'' Inmarsat's calculations of the automated pings from MH370 helped Malaysian officials narrow the search area.
Contributing: Sunny Yang in Beijing