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Ng Han Guan/AP

Chinese families cast blame for missing Flight MH370 on Malaysia

Relatives protest in Beijing, as gale force winds and high waves cancel search for aircraft debris and victims

Furious over Malaysia's handling of missing Flight MH370 after the country said the aircraft plunged into the Indian Ocean and that all 239 passengers on board were presumed dead, Chinese relatives of the lost marched Tuesday to the Malaysia Embassy in Beijing, where they threw plastic water bottles, tried to rush the gate and chanted, "Liars!"

The Chinese government, meanwhile, demanded that Malaysia turn over the satellite data it used to conclude that the Malaysia Airlines jetliner fell into the ocean during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. 

To the relatives’ dismay, gale-force winds, big waves and low clouds on Tuesday forced the suspension of the multinational search for victims or debris, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in a news release. But as Wednesday dawned in Asia the weather conditions had improved, and ships from Australia and China as well as 12 aircraft were expected to be operating in the search area, AMSA said.

Six countries are involved in the search — Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China and South Korea, the AMSA statement said. India has also offered assistance.

Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said Tuesday that under international agreements governing air travel "Malaysia needs to take control" and decide how to proceed.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott also said on Tuesday that Malaysia was legally responsible for the tragedy.

"What up until now has been a search, moves into a recovery and investigation phase," said Abbott. "I have offered Malaysia, as the country legally responsible for this, every assistance and cooperation from Australia."

Abbott added that Australia would waive visa fees for relatives of the passengers and crew on Flight 370 who wanted to come to Australia.

Among the flight's 239 passengers, were 153 Chinese nationals, making the incident a highly emotional one for Beijing. The government's demand for satellite data reflected the desire among many relatives of Chinese passengers for more conclusive information on the plane's fate.

Nearly 100 relatives and their supporters marched to the embassy on Tuesday morning, wearing white T-shirts that read, "Let's pray for MH370" as they held banners and chanted.

"Tell the truth! Return our relatives!" they shouted. There was a heavy police presence at the embassy when the group arrived, and journalists were kept away.

Family members of the missing passengers have complained bitterly about a lack of reliable information. Many have said they suspect they are not being told the whole truth — a not-uncommon mindset among ordinary Chinese accustomed to dealing with their own government.

Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia's ambassador to Beijing that China wanted to know what exactly led Malaysia to announce Monday night that the plane had been lost, China's Foreign Ministry said on its website Tuesday.

"We demand the Malaysian side to make clear the specific basis on which they come to this judgment," Xie was quoted as telling Datuk Iskandar Bin Sarudin.

There was no immediate response from the Malaysian side hours after Malaysian Prime Minister Naib Razak confirmed at a press conference on Monday that Flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

"MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing site," he said. "It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean. We will be holding a press conference tomorrow with further details."

To confirm the plane’s final location, Inmarsat, the U.K. company whose satellite first suggested the two possible paths that the plane took, worked with the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) to perform a detailed analysis of the data, using a method that had never been used in an investigation of this scale.

The search was intensified in the southern region after a French satellite detected possible debris from the missing aircraft on Sunday in the same area identified by Australian and Chinese satellites last week.

Australian Prime Minister Abbott called the Malaysian leader to inform him the crew on board an Australian P3 Orion had located two objects in the search zone — the first gray or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular.

An Australian navy supply ship, the HMAS Success, was on the scene Monday night trying to locate and recover the objects, and Malaysia's Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the vessel could reach them within a few hours or by Tuesday morning.

Separately, the crew aboard one of two Chinese IL-76 aircraft combing the search zone observed two large objects and several smaller ones spread across several square miles, Xinhua news agency reported. At least one of the items — a white square object — was captured on a camera aboard the plane, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

"We are still racing against time," Hong said at a ministry briefing. "As long as there is a glimmer of hope, our search efforts will carry on."

China has redirected the icebreaker Snow Dragon toward the latest find, and that ship was due to arrive early Tuesday. Six other Chinese ships have been directed toward the search zone, along with 20 fishing vessels that have been asked to help, Lei said.

Razak met with family members of the victims before the press conference, informing them of the plane's fate.

Despite the confirmation that the plane crashed, search teams have not been able to recover any debris or the plane's critical flight data recordings.

With the search area finally narrowed, ships and planes in the area are racing to retrieve the few pieces of debris that have been spotted, in the hopes that it can be positively identified as a part of the plane and provide some sort of information as to what happened.

The objects were spotted in a very remote area of the southern Indian Ocean that has been described as inhospitable. Some areas of the ocean reach depths of up to three miles.

It remains unclear what caused the plane to divert from its original course to Beijing, and the investigation is ongoing. Authorities are considering hijacking, sabotage, terrorism and issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

Malaysia's police chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar, reiterated at a news conference Monday that all the passengers have been cleared of suspicion.

But he said that the pilots and crew were still being investigated. He would not comment on whether investigators have recovered the files that were deleted a month earlier from the home flight simulator of the chief pilot.

Police have interviewed more than 100 people in the investigation, including the families of the pilot and co-pilot.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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