Angry relatives of passengers who drowned in the Sewol ferry sinking in South Korea have snubbed the country’s president, despite her promising to raise the submerged vessel that sunk a year ago, killing 304 people.
Black-clad relatives and their supporters remembered the dead, most of whom were high school students, at a mourning ceremony on the anniversary yesterday of one of South Korea’s worst maritime disasters.
President Park Geun-hye visited a small port near the site of the sinking to offer her condolences to bereaved relatives. Most, however, refused to meet her to protest against the government’s response.
Ms Park gave a speech anyway, in which she announced plans to salvage the ferry – a key demand of the relatives.
She insisted the operation would happen “as soon as possible”.
Relatives also stopped the prime minister from attending a mourning event. They later cancelled another ceremony because of what they called government indifference to their plight.
There is frustration among many South Koreans who see the government as having failed to make meaningful improvements to safety standards or to hold high-level officials to account for a disaster that has been blamed in part on incompetence and corruption.
Flags at public buildings were lowered to half-mast and a minute of silence was observed in Ansan, the city that lost nearly an entire class of students on a doomed field trip to a southern resort island. A private ceremony was planned at Danwon High School in the evening.
Relatives cancelled a memorial service in Ansan that thousands of people had been planning to attend.
They expressed anger over Ms Park not visiting the site and not giving a firm commitment for a deeper investigation into what they say is the government’s responsibility for the sinking and botched rescue.
The relatives also claimed Ms Park, in her speech at the port, should have delivered a more detailed plan for salvaging the ship, according to a lawyer representing the families.
The estimated cost of raising the ferry is between £60 million and £92m, and it could take as long as one and a half years.
Relatives in Ansan wept and touched pictures of their lost loved ones as they recalled helplessly watching on television as the ferry slowly sank into the sea.
Scores of people at the port near the sunken ship walked to a lighthouse where hundreds of yellow ribbons were tied to handrails in memory of the victims.
Mourners, including family members and students, attended an evening rally in downtown Seoul, where relatives have protested for months.
The group tried to march to the president’s home but were blocked by police.
Earlier, politicians overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the government to salvage the ferry.
Of the 165 politicians in the National Assembly session, 161 voted to adopt the resolution, two voted against it and two abstained.