Tears, anger mark 1st anniversary of South Korean ferry disaster

  • AFP, Seoul SEOUL, South Korea New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 16, 2015 13:41 IST

Tears and grief mixed with raw anger on Thursday as black-clad relatives mourned the 300 people, mostly high school kids, killed one year ago when the ferry Sewol sank in cold waters off the southwestern South Korean coast.

In contrast to the near universal shock and outrage in the weeks following the sinking, the first anniversary of one of the nation's worst disasters saw more complicated emotions.

There is widespread frustration among many South Koreans who see their government as having failed to meaningfully improve safety standards and hold high-level officials accountable for a disaster blamed in part on incompetence and corruption. Some also express fatigue with the continuing focus on the sinking.

Hours before she was to leave on a diplomatic trip to Colombia, South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited a small port on a southwest island near the site of the sinking to offer her condolences to the bereaved relatives. However, the relatives refused to meet her to protest the government's handling of the sinking, the presidential Blue House said.

Flags in public buildings were lowered to half-staff and a minute of silence was observed in Ansan, the city that lost nearly an entire class of high school students on a doomed field trip to a southern resort island. A total of 304 people died when the ferry Sewol sank.

The city was expecting thousands of visitors at an afternoon memorial service at its mourning site, where Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo visited in the morning, only to be turned back by angry relatives.

Relatives of the victims threatened to cancel the service if the government didn't announce firm plans to salvage the ship and promise a new investigation into the cause of the sinking, according to Pil Kyu Hwang, a lawyer representing the families.

The estimated cost of raising the ferry is between $91 million and $137 million, and it could take as long as 1½ years.

Many relatives gathered in Ansan. Some wept and touched pictures of their lost loved ones as they recalled helplessly watching on television as the ferry slowly sank into the sea.

Hundreds also gathered at Paengmok Port hours before Park's visit. Dressed in black, they walked to a lighthouse where hundreds of yellow ribbons were tied to handrails in memory of the victims.

A candle light vigil was planned in downtown Seoul, where relatives of the victims have been holding protests for months.

Also Thursday, South Korean lawmakers adopted a resolution urging the government to salvage the ferry.

Of the 165 lawmakers in the National Assembly session, 161 voted to adopt the resolution, two voted against it and two abstained.

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