Parties meet with victims’ families but fail to agree

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Parties meet with victims’ families but fail to agree

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Lee Wan-koo, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, with other party leaders, holds a second meeting with relatives of the Sewol victims yesterday at the National Assembly in Yeouido, Seoul. [NEWS1]

In an effort to find middle ground on the special Sewol law, the ruling Saenuri Party had a meeting with victims’ families yesterday at the National Assembly, but they failed once again to narrow their differences on the terms of the bill.

They will hold another meeting on Monday in their third attempt to reach a compromise.

Rep. Park Young-sun, the floor leader of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), was also scheduled to hold a separate meeting yesterday with an association of the families of the teenage victims following the Saenuri’s conference. The outcome of the meeting with the NPAD was not available as of press time yesterday.

“We don’t know how to play politics,” Yu Gyeong-geun, a spokesman for the Sewol victims’ families, said before his meeting with the ruling party. “To us, having this meeting is only painful.

“Whether it’s the ruling or opposition party that we are talking to, we just want to talk about how to conduct a thorough investigation and build a safer society.”

During the first few minutes of the meeting, before it was closed to the media, Kim Hyung-ki, one of the bereaved fathers, asked Saenuri floor leader Lee Wan-koo to make its members stop spreading groundless rumors on social network sites.

“I ask the National Assembly to sternly deal with such remarks found on SNS sites that are hurtful to the families,” he said.

Kim’s appeal referred to negative rumors that have circulated online recently against hunger-striking father Kim Young-oh, who has not eaten for more than 40 days in a demand for the passage of a special law that is wholly supported by the victims’ families.

Today is the 46th day of Kim’s hunger strike for a law that would ensure a fair probe of the root causes of the ship’s sinking and the government’s poor rescue response to the accident.

Last week, Kim also requested a meeting with President Park Geun-hye, a demand that was not met.

Kim said he will eat again only when the ruling party shows an open-mindedness to the families’ demands when it comes to the special bill.

Yesterday, the opposition NPAD also continued its boycott of parliamentary activities and a street rally protesting the Saenuri’s refusal to join a three-way consultative body to discuss the specifics of the Sewol law.

About 60 opposition lawmakers, including the main opposition party’s interim Chairwoman Park Young-sun, staged a demonstration at Gwanghwamun Square, holding pickets that read “Pass the special Sewol Law supported by the bereaved families.”

But the fact that only about half of the 130 NPAD lawmakers attended an emergency lawmakers’ meeting yesterday to reaffirm their struggle against the government over the law signified that the opposition already lost considerable momentum, even among its members who continue to wage a sit-in protest.

But amid the deepening gridlock, a few within each party voiced a change in their stance in dealing with the issue.
Saenuri Rep. Lee Jae-oh said during a party meeting yesterday that President Park Geun-hye had no reason to avoid a meeting with the victims’ families.

“We don’t have much time left. I am asking the party leadership to wrap up the Sewol law issue before the Chuseok holidays,” the five-term lawmaker said. In urging President Park to meet with the families, Lee mentioned President Park’s address to the nation on May 19, when she announced she would take all responsibility for the sinking as the head of state.

“There is no reason for President Park not to meet the families,” Lee said.

On the other side, opposition lawmakers issued a joint statement on Tuesday, the first day of the party’s boycott, criticizing their party’s decision to hold the protest and urging fellow lawmakers to return to the National Assembly. “Lawmakers must not go on a hunger strike or go out of the Assembly to fight,” read the joint statement, which was issued by Reps. Kim Young-hwan, Cho Kyuong-tae, Kim Sung-gon and 12 others.

The 15 lawmakers added that the fight must be waged within the Assembly or the party would otherwise lose the people’s support. “The party will lose its support base from the people if it continues its hawkish stance. The party is now on the verge of being shut-down,” Kim Young-hwan said yesterday.

The 15 lawmakers did not take part in the main opposition’s rally yesterday at Gwanghwamun Square.

The Park government has so far refused to hold a meeting with the victims’ families, who have camped out near the presidential office for six days as of today demanding that she meet with them.

However, Lee Chung-hee, a political science professor from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, defended the president. “It does not seem appropriate for President Park to have a meeting that concerns pursuing certain agenda items on the special law, as she is not in a position under the institutional structure to do so,” the professor said.

Still, critics contend that the Blue House is interpreting its administrative role in the narrowest sense.


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


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