Motivations of a few are questioned amid tragedy

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Motivations of a few are questioned amid tragedy

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Left: Song Jung-geun talks to President Park Geun-hye on Thursday when she paid a visit to a gymnasium in Jindo, South Jeolla, where hundreds of families camped out awaiting word on their missing relatives. [NEWS1] Right: Representative Kwon Won-hee, of the ruling Saenuri Party, offers an apology yesterday at the National Assembly for the remarks she made on her Facebook page that demeaned the family members of the victims.[NEWSIS]

With emotions running high nationwide in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry accident, one of Korea’s worst peacetime disasters that has left more than a hundred dead and even more missing, a few people have come under fire for taking advantage of the tragedy, using it to further their own political and financial agendas.

A case in point is Song Jung-geun, who volunteered in the first few days following the ship’s capsizing to be an acting representative for families camped out in an indoor gymnasium in Jindo County, South Jeolla, awaiting news of their relatives.

Song was standing next to President Park Geun-hye when she paid a visit to the gym Thursday evening, a day after the sinking.

“She made a difficult visit here to see us. Let’s hear from her before we wrap up the meeting,” he said in a surprisingly calm voice.

But it soon emerged that Song was not actually related to any of those onboard the ship, let alone those unaccounted for.

As it turns out, Song was an election hopeful in the Ansan City Council race, and had even registered as a candidate to run in the primary under the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, triggering suspicions that he tried to use the tragedy to promote himself before the vote.

However, Song denied those accusations.

“Though I am not a parent of the victims, I worked as a community service worker in Ansan for a long time,” he said on Monday in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I accepted the position [as an acting representative] at the request of the parents.”

But after concerns mounted over his motivations, he withdrew his candidacy on Friday. The NPAD had planned to convene an ethics committee meeting today to expel Song from the party indefinitely, though he voluntarily left the party yesterday.

Song’s controversial behavior came after news reports that others had approached grieving families at the gym and told them that they would rescue their children in exchange for 100 million won ($96,350).

The authorities are now tracking down brokers suspected attempting to pocket money by taking advantage of despairing families.

Meanwhile, a series of blunders by high-profile figures making light of the tragedy continued yesterday, following an attempt by a senior government official to take a group photo with his colleagues at Paengmok Port, where hundreds of relatives of the missing are waiting for news on the fates of their loved ones.

And Rep. Kwon Won-hee, of the ruling Saenuri Party, bowed her head yesterday before reporters at the National Assembly, offering an apology for the remarks she made on her Facebook page that demeaned the family members of the victims.

“I offer my deepest apology to families who have anxiously been awaiting word in Jindo,” she said. “I will visit the parents in person and express my apologies at an appropriate time.”

Kwon added that she will voluntarily go to the police for questioning concerning her remark.

On Sunday, the lawmaker wrote on her Facebook page that people not related to the victims were trying to politicize the Sewol ferry tragedy by arousing the emotions of the distraught. “There were people who acted as if they were related to the victims and blamed the government [for its slow rescue efforts],” Kwon said in her remark. “They tried to stir a scene by slapping government workers and swearing.”

The ruling party lawmaker also claimed that a woman seen in television footage blaming the government at a gym in Jindo was also in a photograph taken at a rally in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, protesting the government’s plan to set up high-voltage towers.

The photograph from the protest turned out to be fake. The woman Kwon criticized is the mother of a Danwon High School student still unaccounted for.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, YOO SUNG-WOON [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]


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