Snub at Sewol Ferry Memorial Shows Rawness of Wounds in South Korea

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April 27, 2015 by Bill Johnson


SEOUL, South Korea — In a sign of unabated anger with the government over last year’s Sewol ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 people, families of the victims refused to see President Park Geun-hye on Thursday when she visited a memorial on the anniversary of the sinking.

Hundreds of miles away, in a city that lost 250 high school students, other family members blocked Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo, the No. 2 official in Ms. Park’s government, from visiting a second memorial site.

The snub of South Korea’s leaders suggested that their efforts to heal raw wounds were instead opening fresh ones in a nation still grieving over the loss of lives when the overloaded ferry capsized a year ago.

Relatives mourned victims of the Sewol tragedy during a visit on Wednesday to the site of the sinking off the coast of the southern island of Jindo.Ansan Journal: A Year After Sewol Ferry Tragedy, Peace Is Elusive for South Korean CityAPRIL 15, 2015

Kim Chul-soo, the captain of the Sea Star Cruise.Legacy of a South Korean Ferry SinkingAPRIL 11, 2015
The crews of rescue and fishing boats tried to save passengers from the 6,825-ton ferry, which sank on April 16. video Video Captures Students on Sinking FerryAPRIL 30, 2014

“The government and politicians had said they would change after the Sewol, but nothing has changed,” Chun Myong-son, a representative of the victims’ relatives, told reporters in Ansan, an industrial city south of Seoul where most of the victims went to high school. “They have no right to pay tribute to the victims.”

Relatives of the victims left a memorial center on Jindo, a southern island near the site of the sinking, hours before Ms. Park arrived. Before departing, they put up large banners accusing her government of blocking an independent investigation into its failures during rescue efforts and the causes of the sinking. The banners also called for the raising of the 6,825-ton ferry from the sea bottom — a costly project that Ms. Park said her government would undertake “as soon as possible.”

Ms. Park’s response to the disaster has thus far been her biggest legacy as president.

“It’s time to overcome the pains and hardship from the Sewol incident and move on to build a new South Korea,” Ms. Park said from Jindo, where she viewed photographs of victims, including nine still missing. “We cannot stay trapped in the sadness and frustrations that have gripped us for the past year.”

An association of student victims’ families issued a statement saying that Ms. Park had “no qualifications” as president. It accused her of trying to place blame for the disaster not on her government’s regulatory failures but on what she has called the people’s “indifference toward safety.”

Read more: Snub at Sewol Ferry Memorial Shows Rawness of Wounds in South Korea

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