Posted : 2017-01-08 16:01
Updated : 2017-01-08 17:47

Sewol survivors call for probe into Park's '7 missing hours'

Bereaved family members of Sewol ferry disaster victims march with a placard on which photos of the victims are printed, during an anti-President Park Geun-hye protest in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, Saturday, two days before the 1,000th day since the disaster occurred. They called for a thorough investigation into Park's alleged absence from duty on the day of the sinking. / Yonhap

Year's 1st candlelit rally focuses on ferry disaster

By Chung Hyun-chae

Former students of Danwon High School, who survived the Sewol ferry sinking, called for a thorough investigation into the government's poor response to the disaster, as well as the immediate resignation of President Park Geun-hye, Saturday.

The year's first ― and 11th consecutive ― Saturday candlelit protest against the President focused on commemorating the ferry disaster, ahead of the 1,000th day since it occurred on April 16, 2014, which falls on Monday.

At the rally in Seoul, nine survivors appeared in public to tell their stories.

Along with the influence-peddling scandal surrounding Park and her friend Choi Soon-sil, the controversy over the President's alleged absence from duty during the first seven hours of the ferry sinking has come to the fore again.

"We escaped from the sinking ferry, not rescued by the Coast Guards," Jang Ye-jin, 20, who represented the survivors, said, criticizing the government's inept handling of the disaster. "our other friends stayed there because they were told to remain where they were."

Regarding the President's seven missing hours, Jang said, "We don't want to know about the President's private life. However, we think that if the President was well briefed on the accident and gave proper orders during those hours, the disaster would not have led to so many victims."

It is reasonable to investigate whether she did what she was supposed to do, but the government is too busy obfuscating, Jang said.

The survivors said that they feel like they had committed a sin because they came out of the ferry alive, leaving their friends behind.

"On their Facebook pages, we still post messages about missing them. I often stay up late at night, watching their photos and video clips. I sometimes pray that they appear in my dreams," Jang said. "We will never forget our friends and remember them forever."

In the protest which was titled "Down Park Geun-hye, up Sewol ferry," participants also paid a silent tribute to the victims of the disaster which killed 304 passengers, mostly high school students.

They held a lights-out performance and flew yellow balloons to demand a thorough investigation into the disaster and the salvaging of the ferry that has yet to be completed.

The rally organizers said about 600,000 gathered in Seoul while the police estimated the number at 24,000 as of 7:45 p.m.

Meanwhile, a Buddhist monk in his 50s set himself on fire near Gwanghwamun Square at around 10:30 p.m. after the protest finished, leaving a hand-written memo calling for stern punishment against President Park for the ongoing scandal.

Ven. Jungwon was taken to Seoul National University Hospital but is now in critical condition and remains unconscious, according to the police. "The hospital said his organs including heart, lung, kidneys and liver are not functioning normally, and he has severe third-degree burns to nearly 70 percent of his body," said Kwon Young-gook, a lawyer representing the rally organizers.

Police are investigating the exact cause of the incident. In the memo, the monk said Park should be punished for causing a "rebellion" and called for the Seoul-Tokyo agreement over the sexual slavery issue to be nullified.

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