S. Korea to raise Se­wol; griev­ing par­ents un­moved

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY LIM CHANG-WON

South Korea’s pres­i­dent vowed to raise the sunken Se­wol ferry Thurs­day, but was still snubbed by griev­ing rel­a­tives on the first an­niver­sary Thurs­day of the dis­as­ter that claimed 304 lives — most of them school­child­ren.

“I will take the nec­es­sary steps to sal­vage the ship at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble date,” Park Geun- hye an­nounced dur­ing a brief visit to the south­ern is­land of Jindo — the clos­est land­fall to the site where the Se­wol sank on April 16.

Her an­nounce­ment

fol­lowed weeks of protests by vic­tims’ fam­i­lies de­mand­ing a firm com­mit­ment on rais­ing the 6,825-tonne ferry, de­spite the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges and the es­ti­mated US$110 mil­lion cost.

But the fam­i­lies were still not sat­is­fied and boy­cotted a planned an­niver­sary me­mo­rial event, say­ing Park had failed to give other as­sur­ances on en­sur­ing a fully in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into the tragedy.

“Pres­i­dent Park has re­peat­edly ig­nored our de­mands,” fam­i­lies’ spokesman Chun Myeong- sun told a rally of more than 5,000 peo­ple in Seoul’s City Hall plaza on Thurs­day evening.

While largely blamed on the ship’s il­le­gal re­design and over­load­ing, the Se­wol dis­as­ter laid bare deeper- rooted prob­lems of cor­rup­tion, lax safety stan­dards and reg­u­la­tory fail­ings at­trib­uted to the coun­try’s re­lent­less push for eco­nomic growth.

Of the 304 who died, 250 were chil­dren from the same high school in An­san, a city south of Seoul that was the fo­cus of Thurs­day’s re­mem­brance ac­tiv­i­ties.

Minute’s Si­lence for the

De­parted

Flags flew at half mast and yel­low rib­bons flut­tered from trees and lamp posts across the city, where sirens blared at 10:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) and res­i­dents bowed their heads for a minute’s si­lence and prayer.

De­spite tor­ren­tial rain, thou­sands of mourn­ers passed through a me­mo­rial hall con­tain­ing hun­dreds of black-rib­boned, flow­er­ringed por­traits of the dead stu­dents.

Par­ents and other rel­a­tives sobbed and beat their chests as they left mes­sages, stuffing an­i­mals and fa­vored snacks un­der the framed pho­tos.

“My son, I hope you’re happy up there. Mom misses you so much,” one mes­sage read.

A gi­ant screen showed a slide- show of fam­ily pic­tures be­low a large ban­ner that read: “We’re sorry. We love you. We won’t for­get.”

Uni­formed stu­dents from Dan­won High School were among those who paid their re­spects, stand­ing in tear­ful si­lence be­fore the por­traits of their dead class­mates.

A for­mal me­mo­rial event had been sched­uled for the af­ter­noon in An­san, but the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies can­celled it, de­spite Park’s agree­ment to sal­vage the ferry.

Yoo Gy­oung- geun, an­other spokesman for the fam­i­lies, said there was anger that the pres­i­dent had not prop­erly ad­dressed

the in­de­pen­dent in­quiry is­sue.

‘Mean­ing­less’ Words

“I’m afraid her words were just mean­ing­less,” Yoo said.

Public opin­ion has been largely sup­port­ive of the fam­i­lies, although some con­ser­va­tive groups say left- wing or­ga­ni­za­tions have hi­jacked the cause in an ef­fort to em­bar­rass the gov­ern­ment.

A to­tal of 295 bod­ies were re­cov­ered from the ferry, but nine re­mained un­ac­counted for when divers fi­nally called off the danger­ous search in Novem­ber.

The fam­i­lies of those still miss- ing had spear­headed the calls for the ferry to be brought to the sur­face.

The pres­i­dent had in­tended to pay her re­spects at a spe­cial al­tar erected at the is­land’s har­bor, but an­gry rel­a­tives put up a bar­rier to block her ac­cess.

And when Prime Min­is­ter Lee Wan-koo went to An­san on Thurs­day morn­ing, he was turned away at the en­trance to the re­mem­brance hall by vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.

Park and her ad­min­is­tra­tion had promised an over­haul of na­tional safety stan­dards af­ter the dis­as­ter, but most be­lieve their ef­forts have fallen short.

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