Sympathy for South Korea

Recent surveys in South Korea suggest that public opinion is also divided over opening a new investigation into the accident.

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Jumat, 17 Okt 2014 15:36 WIB

Author

Jason Strother

Sympathy for South Korea

South Korea, ferry, Sewol, victims, Jason Strother

When the Sewol ferry capsized in April, Lee Jeong-chul’s teenage son was among the roughly 300 passengers, mostly high school students, who didn’t make it back to shore.
 
“My son really liked sports and was a great swimmer, he had spent a lot of time at sea.  Everyone thought that if anyone would have been able to get off the ship, it would have been him.”

For the past two months, Lee has been joined by other victims’ parents and their supporters in downtown Seoul plaza. They’ve set up tents and sit on mats under umbrellas, while volunteers ask passers by to help support the families.

Lee says their protest is meant to make sure that no one, including politicians, forgets what happened to their children.

“We, the families, want a safer country, so that something like this will never happen again and parents won’t have to suffer like we have.”

Even though an investigation was launched immediately after the disaster,  the families want an entirely new probe into what went wrong.

They have teamed up with politicians from Korea’s opposition who’ve lobbied for their cause. But a recent deal in the National Assembly to re open the investigation has left many of these parents disappointed.

That’s according to Jang Seong-hwe, an activist who has worked with the accident victims’ families.

“We are unhappy with the agreement because it does not allow the families to be a part of the process of selecting a new prosecutor to lead the investigation”

Jang says the families and their supporters will not give up their protest.

But they are not the only ones demonstrating on the streets.

For the past month, protests against the Sewol families have been staged nearby.

Activists call on the parents to give back donated money and some burned a flag embroidered with a yellow ribbon, a symbol of the Sewol victims.

Byun Hee-jae, a conservative media commentator, was amongst the demonstrators. He says at first everyone felt sympathy for these parents, but now they are asking too much.

“We have already had an investigation. It blamed the ferry company and the coast guard.  There is nothing more to discuss about it.”

That preliminary investigation Byun is talking about determined that the Sewol was overloaded the day it set sail and that illegal modifications had been made that caused it to be unbalanced.
 
Some members of the crew are standing trial and if convicted face the death penalty for negligent murder.

Byun recently tweeted that the fight against the Sewol families is not over.

Recent surveys in South Korea suggest that public opinion is also divided over opening a new investigation into the accident. Some people sayig they want the Sewol families to give it up.

Michael Breen, author of the book The Koreans, says sympathy for these parents and their cause might have been lost because the disaster has become too politicized.
 
“The families of the victims wanted an investigation to thoroughly get to the bottom of this. And the government and the establishment have resisted that. The real reason is that they don’t want the opposition to run all over this, they don’t want it to be an opposition run investigation. That’s the impasse that has kept this thing alive”

Breen says both Korea’s ruling and opposition parties are trying to take advantage of the situation.

“The president didn’t step in as a national leader very well and she was under attack from the beginning. And the opposition, which is pretty unelectable, they jumped on this. And this has gone from national tragedy to a political battle”

Grieving father Lee Jeong-chul says he is upset about the opposition he and the Sewol families have encountered. He adds he is not happy with lawmakers either.

“I want the ruling and opposition parties should stop searching for political advantages in this situation.  The ferry accident should not have turned into a political fight.”

South Korean lawmakers are still bickering over the details of a new probe. They say they will decide later if the Sewol victims’ families can be a part of the new investigation.
 

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