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South Korea remembers Sewol ferry victims on first anniversary

South Korea is marking the first anniversary of a ferry disaster that killed over 300 people off the island of Jindo. Victims' families still complain of official indifference to their demands for an independent inquiry.

Hundreds of relatives of the Sewol ferry victims mourned the year-old disaster with teary eyes and half-mast flags on Thursday at a small port near the accident site.

A minute of silence was observed in the city of Ansan, which lost nearly an entire class of high school students in the fatal accident on April 16 last year.

A major memorial service is being held in the city. South Korean Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo visited the mourning site Thursday morning but had to cut short his visit after confrontation with angry relatives

who hold the government officials responsible for the disaster

.

President Park Guen-hye, whose approval ratings saw a sharp decline after the disaster, is also expected to meet the victims' relatives.

A total of 304 people died last year when the Sewol ferry capsized off the southern island of Jindo. There were 476 passengers onboard the MV Sewol.

On Thursday, the Asian country's lawmakers passed a resolution urging the government to salvage the ill-fated ferry - a massive operation that would cost an estimated $110 million.

'Nothing has changed'

The accident was largely blamed on overloading and the ship's illegal redesigning. Many South Koreans believe the disaster was a result of corruption and lax safety standards, and could have been avoided had the Sewol's captain and crew not instructed the passengers to remain on the vessel.

"Nothing has changed," the JoongAng Daily newspaper wrote in its Thursday editorial, adding that the government had not fulfilled its promise to revamp the ministry of maritime affairs.

The ship's 68-year old captain, Lee Joon-seok, who was in charge on the day the ferry capsized, was spared the death penalty in November last year, but

was handed a 36-year prison term

.

In February, a former South Korean coastguard ship commander was sentenced to four years in prison for a botched rescue effort. The court in Gwangju city found Kim Kyung-il

guilty of professional negligence resulting in death

.

shs/bw (AFP, AP)

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