Relatives of victims still demand Park’s answer

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Relatives of victims still demand Park’s answer

With the legislation of the special Sewol law going nowhere, the bereaved families of the sunken ferry’s victims held a sit-in protest in front of the Blue House over the weekend, demanding a meeting with President Park Geun-hye to seek a breakthrough in the months-long stalemate.

The distraught families began the protest near the Cheongun hyoja-dong community center, about 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the president’s office, on Friday after Kim Young-oh, the father of a victim, was taken to a hospital after 40 days of a hunger strike. The relatives called for the passage of the Sewol law supported by the families and a meeting with President Park, but they were blocked by a line of police vehicles and officials from reaching the Blue House.

“I ask [President Park] to meet Kim Young-oh and listen to his grievance. Please meet him as though he were the voice of the people,” said Kim Byung-kwon, head of an association of the bereaved families, yesterday at the protest site.

The sit-in protest followed the relatives’ rejection of a bipartisan deal reached by the ruling and opposition parties on Tuesday that settled on specifics of the special law, which aims to find the cause of the April 16 sinking and uncover any government wrongdoing. The disaster left more than 300 people dead, mostly high school students, in waters off Jindo Island, South Jeolla.

Under Tuesday’s agreement, the Saenuri Party will be allowed to choose two members of a seven-member recommendation committee tasked with selecting two candidates for a special prosecutor to investigate the tragedy, but only after its selections are approved by the relatives of the Sewol victims and the main opposition party.

President Park Geun-hye will make the final choice on who will serve as the special prosecutor.

The families, however, object to the Saenuri having any say in choosing candidates for the recommendation committee. The relatives do not trust the party as they believe it is not committed to revealing any government misconduct that could have led to the sinking. The Saenuri is trying to avoid a special investigation that could target presidential officials for breach of trust, the relatives say.

The ruling party’s behavior during a parliamentary audit into the sinking over the past few months has only added to the families’ suspicions and lack of trust.

While the relatives demanded that all government officials who could potentially have contributed to the incident’s heavy death toll be called in for a parliamentary audit, the Saenuri and the NPAD remained at odds over whether to summon senior Blue House staff members, including Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon.

A remark by Saenuri lawmaker Kim Tae-heum, who said the relatives staging the sit-in protest in front of the National Assembly looked like homeless people, also did the party no favors.

Additionally, the families do not believe that the administration will appoint a special prosecutor who will not bow down to any pressure from the Blue House.

With the relatives’ opposition to the second bipartisan deal, the legislation of the Sewol law has been stuck in limbo, along with other bills intended to improve people’s livelihoods.

On the family members’ request for a meeting, the Blue House has so far rejected the appeal, saying that setting the terms of the Sewol law is up to the ruling and opposition parties and that it would be inappropriate for President Park to intervene.

While the families continue to protest in front of the Blue House, Kim Young-oh, now widely known as the father of Yu-min, a teenage victim of the sinking, has been refusing to eat since he checked into Seoul Metropolitan Dongbu Hospital Friday.

His health has been rapidly deteriorating due to his 43-day hunger strike. Though he is now being fed intravenously, as of today he has not taken any food orally for 43 days.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Kim countered some public suspicions that his self-destructive actions are in pursuit of a larger compensation sum for his daughter’s death.

Kim, a divorcee, wrote that he gave his 50 percent share of the 100 million won ($98,129) compensation for Yu-min’s death to her mother two months ago because he “did nothing” for his deceased daughter after his divorce in 2003.

“I just want to know why Yu-min had to die,” he said.

With the grieving father now in a hospital bed, Rep. Moon Jae-in, who represented the opposition bloc in the 2012 presidential election, is today on the seventh day of his hunger strike in solidarity with the relatives’ cause.

Through a statement posted on social media, Moon urged President Park to listen to the grieving families.

Meanwhile, Park Young-sun, an interim chief of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, yesterday proposed that a trilateral meeting involving the two parties and the grieving families should be formed to reach a compromise on the special law.

“In order to overcome mistrust and get to the bottom [of the sinking], a trilateral discussion should be launched right away. The families are positively reviewing the proposal and I delivered my intention to the Saenuri,” said Park during a meeting with NPAD governors.

The Saenuri rejected Park’s proposal, stating that including the victims’ families in legislating the special law undermines the principles of representative and parliamentary democracy.

“The Saenuri floor leader said he will listen to what the bereaved families have to say but will only do so within the principles of parliamentary and representative democracy. I hope the NPAD does not misinterpret the remark,” said Yoon Young-seok, spokesman of the ruling party.

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


















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