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South Korean protesters demand independent ferry probe

April 25, 2015

Thousands of South Koreans have taken to the streets, calling for an independent inquiry into last year's ferry disaster that killed over 300 people. The protesters also demand the government salvage the ill-fated ship.

People pay a tribute at a group memorial altar for the victims of the sunken South Korean ferry Sewol at a remembrance hall in Ansan on April 16, 2015 (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: AFP/Getty Images/Jung Yeon-Je

"Salvage the truth," "Step down, Park Geun-hye," and "Park Geun-hye, don't come home," were some of the slogans chanted by the protesters on Saturday's rally in the capital Seoul. South Korean President Park, who is currently in Latin America on an official visit, is set to return home on Monday, only to face a surge in opposition against her government's handling of the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16 last year.

A total of 304 people - most of them teenagers on a school trip - died when the Sewol ferry capsized off the southern island of Jindo. There were 476 passengers onboard the MV Sewol.

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.

Around 3,000 people participated in the evening rally to show support to ferry disaster relatives, wearing face markings and scarves and jackets colored yellow - a hue that has come to symbolize the plight of the victims' families.

The protesters gathered on Seoul's Sejong Street, where supporters of the families have camped since the accident.

The rally remained peaceful as the police did not intervene and the protesters dispersed following a vigil. Similar demonstrations last week on Thursday and Saturday turned violent as around 10,000 protesters clashed with police, who used water cannon and pepper spray against the crowd attempting to force their way to the presidential palace.

Sewol anniversary

Last week, hundreds of relatives of the Sewol ferry victims mourned the year-old disaster 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.

President Park, whose approval ratings saw a sharp decline after the disaster, is also expected to meet the victims' relatives on her return from Latin America.

On April 16, 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.

shs/rc (AP, AFP)