Minister says 'history will judge us well'

PHILIP WEN IN BEIJING AND LINDSAY MURDOCH IN KUALA LUMPUR
Last updated 10:16 27/03/2014
Reuters

The search for the Malaysian airliner that disappeared 18 days ago resumes in the southern Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin Hussein
Reuters
DEFENDING COORDINATION: Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein speaks about the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Kuala Lumpur.

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Malaysia's government has defended its handling of the ongoing search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, declaring that "history will judge us well" despite widespread criticism over its performance.

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's Defence and Acting Transport Minister, described his country's co-ordination of the 26-nation search as "admirable" during a daily press briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

He also acknowledged the pain and suffering of family members in China who have angrily accused Malaysian authorities of incompetence and withholding information, but said they were not the only people to suffer loss in the tragedy.

Emotions yet again ran high at a briefing held at the Lido Hotel in Beijing on Wednesday, a day after about 200 Chinese family members marched through the streets of the capital and protested at the Malaysian embassy over the country's handling of the plane crisis.

"Time will heal emotions that are running high," said Hishammuddin, who has become the public face of Malaysia's response to the disappearance of the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board on March 8.

"But the Chinese families must also understand that Malaysia also lost loved ones and many other nations also lost loved ones.

"I have seen images [of relatives] from Australia: very rational, understanding this is a global effort, not blaming Malaysia, because it is co-ordinating something unprecedented."

He dismissed the widespread criticism of Malaysia's handling of the search and investigation, insisting that it had performed admirably in an unprecedented situation.

"I think history will judge us well," he said.

At Beijing's Lido Hotel, about 50 police officers watched on in a room as an official five-man Malaysian delegation, which included an air force general, a Malaysia Airlines pilot and a senior civil aviation official, showed slides explaining the analysis of the satellite data provided by British firm Inmarsat, which led to the conclusion that the plane had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

The mood, while calmer than previous briefings, remained tense as family representatives asked pre-prepared questions collected from around 200 relatives in the room.

An angry roar erupted when, in response to one question, Malaysian Air Force Major-General Affendi Buang said no possibility for the crash could be ruled out, including a hijacking.

"So there is still the possibility that our loved ones are still alive?" relatives in the room asked, only to be met with a prolonged and awkward silence.

The twists and turns in the protracted search for the Malaysia Airlines jet have fuelled a belief among Chinese relatives that the Malaysian government has withheld information that could have proved vital in recovering the plane - and possible survivors - especially in the first few days of the plane going missing.

A volatile mix of grief and anger has seen relatives direct a large amount of vitriol at the Malaysian government, which showed little signs of abating at Wednesday's briefing.

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"Our families were killed by your country," some relatives shouted.

At his press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Hishammuddin said handling the incident was "personally very difficult for me" as a father and brother, and acknowledged that it would prove difficult for families to obtain closure until they found debris of the plane that could be positively identified as belonging to the Malaysia Airlines jet.

Hishammuddin said Malaysia had handed over all relevant satellite data to China as requested, after the Chinese government said it was "highly concerned" with Malaysia's conclusion that the plane had crashed in the Indian Ocean, and had "demanded full information and the evidence" that supported it.

President Xi Jinping's special envoy, vice-foreign minister Zhang Yesui, arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday. Meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, he stressed the urgency to "continue searching in full force" for the missing flight, and urged Malaysia to "strengthen information sharing" with China.

He said the effort brought together countries that have been squabbling over rocks in the sea, referring to territorial disputes in North Asia and the South China Sea.

Hishammuddin said "endless speculation" will continue until debris from the plane is found.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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