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One of the world's most perplexing aviation mysteries is casting a harsh spotlight on Malaysia's government, as a leadership unused to heavy scrutiny comes under intense international criticism for a litany of confusing messages and a perceived lack of transparency.
Five days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens, a huge international search operation has failed to turn up a trace of the Boeing jetliner that was carrying 239 passengers and crew.
Frustration over the fruitless search has increasingly been directed at Malaysian officials after a series of fumbling news conferences, incorrect details given by the national airline, and a long delay in divulging details of the military's tracking of what could have been the plane hundreds of miles off course.
The missteps have ranged from conflicting information about the last time of contact with the jet to the sharing of photos of two passengers in which they had the same pair of legs.
"The Malaysians deserve to be criticized - their handling of this has been atrocious," said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Government officials say they are coping as best they can with an xceptional, highly complex crisis.
Confusion, false leads, and misinformation are common in the initial hours of air disasters in any country.
But China, whose citizens made up around two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight, has barely hidden its impatience with Malaysia, urging it several times to step up the search and investigation efforts.
The head of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, Li Jiaxiang, told reporters on Thursday that the message had been repeated to Malaysia's special envoy in the Chinese capital.
"Yesterday Malaysia's special envoy arrived in Beijing, and the CAAC asked of him that Malaysia step up search efforts and increase their scope, and that we hope that Malaysia's information release and communication can be smoother," he said.
Some families of the up to 154 missing Chinese have voiced fury at what they said was the slow release of information. Verbal abuse and water bottles were hurled at representatives of the government-owned airline in Beijing.
"The core of Malaysia's information hasn't been consistent from start to finish," said China's widely read and influential Global Times tabloid, published by the Communist Party's official People's Daily.
"It certainly hits at the confidence that the rest of the world has in Malaysia's ability to be the nucleus of the