100 days on, thousands mourn Korean ferry victims

  • AFP, Seoul
  • Updated: Jul 24, 2014 19:34 IST

Thousands of people rallied in Seoul on Thursday, 100 days after South Korea's ferry disaster, to push for an independent inquiry into the tragedy that claimed around 300 lives, most of them students.

The crowd included 600 family members of the victims and their supporters who had walked for two days from Ansan City, south of Seoul, carrying banners with slogans like: "How can you forget?".

Of the 476 people on board the Sewol passenger ferry when it sank on April 16, 325 were students from Danwon High School in Danwon. Only 75 were rescued.

"We want parliament to pass a special law guaranteeing a thorough investigation into the sinking," a leader of the families' group told journalists.

The bill is currently stuck in the national assembly with rival political parties at loggerheads over what legal force any such investigation should have.

The relatives want any panel of inquiry to be endowed with prosecutorial powers.

The rally outside Seoul City Hall included a music concert in memory of the victims.

The Sewol disaster rocked South Korea and triggered a wave of anti-establishment feeling as initial investigations showed that greed, corruption and a lack of proper oversight had contributed to the tragedy.

There was fresh anger after police on Tuesday announced that a body found six weeks ago was that of the fugitive patriarch of the family that owned the Sewol who had been the target of a months-long manhunt

Yoo Byung-Eun, 73, became South Korea's most wanted man following the ferry capsize and thousands of police and troops had been deployed in a nationwide dragnet.

When it turned out his badly decomposed body had been in a police morgue since June 12, the reaction towards the police was one of outraged ridicule.

Yoo's family owned the ferry operator Chonghaejin Marine Co., and he was wanted for questioning over lax safety standards and regulatory violations.

More than three months after the Sewol sank, dive teams are still attempting daily searches of the submerged vessel for the bodies of remaining victims still unaccounted for.

Fifteen Sewol crew members are currently on trial, including the captain and three senior officers who are accused of "homicide through wilful negligence" -- a charge that can carry the death penalty.

The bulk of the charges arise from the fact that they chose to abandon the ferry while hundreds of people were still trapped inside.

President Park Geun-Hye and her administration have been bitterly criticised for their response to the disaster."A-Lung, mama is here," an elderly woman wailed, calling for her son's spirit to follow her home and not to linger at the site.

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