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South Korea president promises to raise sunken Sewol ferry

South Korea's president has announced that the Sewol ferry would be salvaged, a year after the tragedy that killed over 300 people. Victims' families boycotted a memorial ceremony, asking for an independent inquiry.

Many of the relatives of those killed a year ago when the Sewol ferry sank expressed their angry over the government's handling of the tragedy and refused to meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who visited the small island of Jindo near the where the ferry sank to offer her condolences on Thursday.

Park promised that the ferry would be brought to the surface, which has been a key request of the victims' families.

"I will take the necessary steps to salvage the ship at the earliest possible date," Park said in her speech on the first anniversary of the deadly accident.

Although 295 bodies have been recovered from the shipwreck, nine victims remain unaccounted for. The government has called off the search for the bodies in November 2014, after the death of two divers.

"My heart still aches when I think of the nine people who are still under the cold water, and of their families," Park said.

The accident was largely blamed on overloading and the ship's illegal modifications. However, many South Koreans believe the disaster was a result of corruption and lax safety standards, as well as a botched rescue effort. Both ferry's captain and the commander of the coast guard ship involved in the rescue operation were convicted for their roles in the tragedy.

President's words 'meaningless'

The promise to start a salvage operation for the 6,825-ton vessel, at an estimated cost of $110 million, did not satisfy the relatives of those who perished in the accident.

Yoo Gyoung-Geun, a spokesman for the families, said there was anger that the president had not given assurances regarding their demands for independent inquiry of the disaster.

"I'm afraid her words were just meaningless," Yoo said.

Many critics claim the government has failed to improve national safety standards after the accident.

Ansan in mourning

Earlier on Thursday, relatives of the victims blocked the prime minister who tried to attend a mourning event, and raised a barrier to prevent Park from approaching a special altar raised in island's harbor.

Relatives also canceled a formal memorial ceremony in Ansan, home city for 250 high school students who were among the victims. Thousands of mourners, however, still paid their respects on the day of the anniversary.

Large rallies, candle light vigils and other gatherings were planned in downtown Seoul for Thursday, where relatives of the victims have been protesting for months.

Although public opinion in South Korea has been largely sympathetic towards the families, some conservatives accuse left-wing organizations of hijacking the cause to embarrass the government.

dj/sms (AFP, AP)

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