Sewol relatives in a drunken brawl

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Sewol relatives in a drunken brawl

A drunken midnight scuffle in Yeouido hit the headlines when it turned out to involve a lawmaker and relatives of people who died in the Sewol ferry sinking.

The group allegedly assaulted a driver-for-hire they had called to drive them home. And then they allegedly assaulted two passersby who tried to break up the scuffle.

The relatives of the Sewol victims included the chairman and senior deputy chairman of the committee that represents all the families who lost loved ones in the sinking, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people. The Sewol Family Countermeasure Committee is negotiating the terms of the special law to investigate the tragedy, which is stalled in the National Assembly.

Yesterday, nine of the committee officials decided to take the responsibility for the melee by stepping down from their positions.

“Those who were involved in the incident will fully cooperate with the investigation,” read a statement released by the committee yesterday. “Nine officials are resigning but the general affairs team and assistant administrator of each division will remain to continue the committee’s work.”

The Yeongdeungpo Police Precinct said yesterday that they launched an investigation of five relatives of Sewol ferry victims over allegations of assaulting a 51-year-old hired driver and two other passersby.

The police said that Rep. Kim Hyun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), who had taken the relatives out to dinner, argued with the driver a little after midnight yesterday. The five relatives on the committee, including its chairman Kim Byeong-gwon and senior deputy chairman Kim Hyeong-gi, allegedly started the violence.

The five relatives and Rep. Kim were alleged to have been drunk.

The hired driver, who was identified only by the surname Lee, told the police that he received a call to drive Rep. Kim’s car home, through a “designated driver” service used by people who have been drinking and consider themselves over the legal limit to drive.

But the group kept the driver waiting for more than 30 minutes.

He told the group that we would leave for another customer if they did not depart soon. The Sewol relatives suddenly started beating him, saying he was not behaving respectfully to a lawmaker, the police said.

Two passersby tried to break up the fight and were themselves attacked. They fought back, and some of the relatives claimed they had to go to the hospital with injuries.

“NPAD lawmaker Kim suggested the relatives have dinner together for consolation,” said committee spokesman Yoo Gyeong-geun, who was among the nine officials who resigned yesterday. “It was not a one-sided assault. One of the relatives ended up with a cast on his arm and another broke six of his teeth.”

The police added that 14 people ended up at the scene, including Rep. Kim’s aides.

“Some CCTV footage of the scene had five people attacking three others,” said the police. “It’s not been confirmed whether the five are all relatives of Sewol ferry victims.

“We will further investigate given that the arguments from both sides are different, and we are also planning to question NPAD Rep. Kim Hyun,” added the police.

The committee also apologized in its statement.

“We would like to offer our sincere apology to the family members of Sewol ferry accident victims and the public,” read the statement. “We will try harder to seek the truth behind the ferry accident and contribute to establish a more secure and safe society.”

The impasse over the special Sewol law is the cause of complete paralysis at the National Assembly. The opposition has refused to pass any other bills until the Sewol bill is negotiated and passed. The relatives have refused to accept two compromises hammered out by ruling party and opposition politicians.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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