Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Air disaster spurs Malaysian boycotts in China

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BEIJING -- From beach vacations to entertainers, all things Malaysian are being boycotted in China in protest of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and what many consider the bungled investigation that has followed.

Major Chinese ticketing agencies last week banned sales of airplane tickets to Malaysia, with one of them, eLong, saying it would maintain the stricture "indefinitely until the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines release every piece of information they have in order to find out the truth of the missing flight as soon as possible."

On Friday, family members of the missing, who have been gathered in Beijing's Lido Hotel since the flight's disappearance March 8, boycotted a regular news conference held by Malaysia Airlines, leaving airline personnel in a conference room with just journalists.

Even a popular singer, Fish Leong -- an ethnically Chinese Malaysian who is pregnant -- has been beset by threats on her microblog, with angry Chinese cursing her unborn child.

Of 227 passengers on the ill-fated flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, 153 were Chinese nationals. Their families have been encouraging the campaign, with denunciations growing increasingly shrill.

"Shameless executioners!" a Shandong-based businesswoman wrote on a microblog. "Malaysia should disappear from the face of the Earth."

The airline has closed down an information office it had opened at Beijing's Lido Hotel for relatives of the missing, saying it was advised to do so by Chinese authorities fearful that airline employees might be attacked. At some briefings, family members have thrown water bottles at airline officials.

Hundreds of relatives of the missing marched outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, a protest that appeared to have the blessing of the Chinese government, which supplied buses for the demonstrators. Since then, however, Chinese authorities have been reining in the anti-Malaysia campaign, toning down inflammatory editorials in the state press.

The Malaysian government has drawn criticism worldwide for the way it has handled the search. Days were wasted searching for the plane along its flight path over the South China Sea because Malaysian military radar apparently failed to detect that the flight had turned around and headed towards the Indian Ocean.

More frustration came Friday when it was announced that after 10 days, search efforts off the west coast of Australia were being moved 1,000 kilometres to the north.

Chinese celebrities have jumped on the anti-Malaysia bandwagon, using their microblogs to drum up support for the boycott.

"Malaysia... you are wrong not to revere life. You are wrong not to respect the universal quest for truth," wrote Zhang Ziyi, one of China's best-known actresses, on her Sina Weibo account.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2014 A7

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