Memorial marks Cheonan sinking

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Memorial marks Cheonan sinking

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Lawmakers and political leaders return to their seats at the Daejeon National Cemetery after offering flowers at a memorial ceremony yesterday to commemorate 46 fallen naval officers who were killed in North Korea’s attack on the ROKS Cheonan on March 26, 2010. [NEWSIS]

Leaders of the ruling and opposition parties yesterday attended a memorial ceremony to mark the fourth anniversary of the tragic 2010 torpedo attack on the ROKS Cheonan naval ship by Pyongyang that killed 46 South Korean sailors.

The ceremony by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, led by Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, saw some 4,000 people attend, including ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Hwang Woo-yea; the Saenuri floor leader, Choi Kyung-hwan; as well as Kim Han-gill and Ahn Cheol-soo, who officially launched the New Politics Alliance for Democracy yesterday. The memorial event was held yesterday morning at the Daejeon National Cemetery.

Cheon Ho-sun, chairman of the minor opposition Justice Party, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and other local government heads were also present.

President Park Geun-hye, currently on a state visit to Berlin, also relayed a message through the minister of patriots and veterans affairs to pay tribute to the sailors who died on the warship.

“You and I cannot be separate for there to be security,” she stated. “When all people are gathered together as one with the love for the country… an era of peace and unification in the Korean Peninsula will begin.”

She added that the South will block any provocations from the North with a thorough defense posture and, “in such case of provocation, we will firmly punish [the North].”

Her comments followed Pyongyang’s launch of two mid-range ballistic missiles earlier yesterday.

Oh Byung-yun, floor leader of the minor opposition Unified Progressive Party, was blocked from the event by the victims’ bereaved families.

It was the first time an official from the left-leaning UPP attempted to attend an anniversary ceremony remembering the Cheonan sinking, which occurred on March 26, 2010, near the maritime border with the North in the Yellow Sea. North Korea has denied the attack.

The UPP, formerly the Democratic Labor Party, which merged with other minor parties in 2011 after the Cheonan incident, has persistently denied Pyongyang’s involvement in the attack despite South Korean military investigations that concluded that North Korean submarines torpedoed the ship. Family members of the victims demanded Oh “make clear the UPP’s official stance on the torpedoing of the Cheonan” and acknowledge North Korea’s responsibility for it.

Oh turned away, stating, “If the bereaved family members don’t want [me to attend], I will leave.”

UPP spokesman Hong Sung-kyu told reporters later that day at the National Assembly, “It is not that our party’s position has changed. [Oh] went to express condolences from the party in order to advance North-South relations.”

In a press conference on Sunday, UPP Chairwoman Lee Jung-hee suggested that North Korea pay tribute to the victims of the Mount Kumgang, Yeonpyeong and Cheonan attacks, which was seen as a last-ditch effort to save the party from a lawsuit by the ruling Saenuri Party calling for its dissolution.

BY SARAH KIM, YOO SUNG-WOON [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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