BEIJING (AP) — About two dozen Chinese relatives of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Friday staged a small protest outside China's Foreign Ministry calling on governments to continue searching for the plane.
The relatives gathered outside the ministry in Beijing and demanded to see the foreign minister to submit a petition to him saying that last week's decision to suspend the search was irresponsible.
China, Australia and Malaysia announced last week that the more than two-year-long hunt for the missing flight would be suspended once the current search area in the Indian Ocean has been completely scoured, something expected by the end of the year.
The protest came the same day Australian officials announced that a wing part found last month on an East African island most likely came from the missing plane.
The debris, which was found on Pemba Island off the coast of Tanzania, was analyzed by experts at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is heading up the search for the plane in a remote stretch of ocean far off Australia's west coast. Those officials determined it was "highly likely" to have come from the missing Boeing 777, Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester said in a statement.
Several pieces of the doomed airliner have washed ashore in various spots around the southern Indian Ocean since it vanished more than two years ago with 239 people on board. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has previously determined that four pieces of debris it examined almost certainly came from the plane, and another wing part found a year ago on La Reunion island, off the African coast, was positively identified by French officials.
Though the discovery of the debris has bolstered authorities' beliefs that the plane went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean, none of the parts have yielded any clues into exactly where and why the aircraft crashed. Officials are hoping to find the underwater wreckage and the critical flight data recorders, or black boxes, which could provide some answers. But with the end of the search looming, the black boxes may never be found.
In Beijing, several of the relatives held up hand-written signs calling for the search to be continued and asked to meet Chinese officials involved in last week's decision.
"Since these people spent the money of Chinese tax payers to represent Chinese relatives to attend the meeting, they are obliged to see us," said Jiang Hui, whose mother was on the plane. He said that their request for a meeting had been rejected.
"We will continue to demand the meeting because we want to know the most accurate information of what was going on in that meeting" between Chinese, Australian and Malaysian officials who discussed the fate of the search, he said.
The plane vanished on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. It is believed to have turned back west and then south before dropping into the Indian Ocean west of Australia, where the search has been concentrated. Much of what happened to the plane remains a mystery, although many suspect that it was deliberately steered off course.
Officials have said the search, hampered by bad weather and damaged equipment, will end by December.
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.