World Cup gets in way of Assembly Sewol probe

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World Cup gets in way of Assembly Sewol probe

A parliamentary committee tasked with finding out what led to the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry hit an unexpected obstacle: the one-month-long World Cup tournament.

The major opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy is demanding that the 18-member special committee begin its work directly after the final match of the World Cup on July 14, a proposal the ruling Saenuri Party has scoffed at. It wants to start them sooner.

It said the NPAD actually just wants to delay the committee deliberations to come right before July 30 by-elections so that they will embarrass the government and ruling party during the campaigns.

The NPAD is claiming that summoning government officials to brief committee members at the Assembly during the World Cup tournament will “dishonor” the families of the sunken ferry victims.

“Having government agencies come to the Assembly to brief committee members during the World Cup will leave victims’ families deeply hurt,” said NPAD floor leader Park Young-sun during a leadership meeting at the National Assembly.

The opposition is also worried that the work of the committee will not be covered by the press as much during the post-World Cup season, as the country is expected to plunge into festive mode for the 32-day event.

“The victims’ families are asking us not to forget their loved ones who are still missing,” said Representative Kim Hyun-mi of the NPAD. “What the Saenuri wants to do with the committee during the World Cup season will do exactly that.”

The bickering over the schedule came after a bipartisan agreement to conduct the investigation without any political calculation in an effort to find out the exact cause of the calamity and to prevent such a disaster from occurring again.

To avoid politicizing the investigation, the two main parties agreed to summon key government officials, including those from the Blue House, as witnesses to testify before lawmakers at the Assembly from Aug. 3 through Aug. 8, after the July 30 by-election.

Prior to the testimony of government officials, the committee members are scheduled to be debriefed on the sinking by relevant government agencies.

The ruling party rejected the opposition’s claim and appeared dismayed that the opposition is trying to postpone the high-stakes investigation because of the international sport event that will be held in Brazil.

“If we follow through on the opposition’s demand, we will be out of time to review officials’ briefing before we decide who should testify before committee members,” said Representative Cho Won-jin of the Saenuri Party, who is a member of the special committee.

Cho added that it will inevitably put the special committee in the middle of political wrangling if the committee gets debriefed by relevant agencies during the by-election campaigning period.

Committee members of the Saenuri suspect that the opposition is trying to take political advantage of the investigation. It is likely that committee members belonging to the NPAD will make a scene in which summoned officials will be harshly grilled by them, which could negatively affect the ruling party in the by-election.

Families of victims of the Sewol sinking whose remains have yet to be recovered issued a statement yesterday amid the partisan bickering over the committee schedule, condemning both parties for failing to promptly carry out the special probe in a bipartisan manner.

They also urged committee members to follow through on their earlier promise to conduct their probe in Jindo, South Jeolla, where search efforts are going on in waters off the southwestern island.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]



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