A riot too farWhy couldn’t we have grieved for the victims of the sunken Sewol ferry in solemnity and sincerity on the first anniversary of Korea’s worst-ever maritime disaster, which claimed more than 300 lives? Don’t we have enough decency to mourn for the dead in a proper way? The mass rally over the weekend that drew thousands of people to jointly mourn for the victims turned into an anti-government protest and ended up in violent clashes with the police. The crowd of over 8,000 people that gathered around an altar set up at the Gwanghamun plaza in central Seoul to remember the victims of the April 16, 2014 disaster ended up rioting to demand the president to step down. To show their fury at riot police and barricades that were set up, some attacked and damaged police buses blocking the marchers’ route to the presidential office. Some burned the national flag. The police tried to disperse the angry crowd with water cannons and pepper spray. A mother of a student victim was injured and taken to the hospital. Many riot police were hurt and over a hundred were arrested.
We suspect there were outside forces with their own intentions to spoil the mood and manipulate the crowd. Many of the civic organizations demanding a thorough and independent probe into the disaster were the same that provoked nationwide protests against American beef imports in 2008. About 80 of the 100 people who were arrested were unrelated to the victims of the tragedy. We cannot tolerate professional rioters provoking social conflict and using a tragic accident as a means of flogging the government. That is a shameful and callous exploitation of a very human tragedy.
Relatives of the victims have reasons to be angry with the government for its insensitivity and incompetence at the time of the accident. Many lives could have been saved if authorities had acted quickly to rescue the passengers. The president and her government have also failed to meet the expectations of the families by evading accountability for the slack response in the aftermath of the accident. Still their tragedy must not be exploited for political purposes by anti-government forces. The victims’ families indicated they are open to dialogue, agreeing to the government’s plan to raise the 6,800-ton ship as soon as possible and demanding a revision in the special act on the Sewol ferry crisis through discussions with the families. The government should respond promptly. Many worry that the families could end up more pained and hurt by a conflict provoked by outside riot organizers. The conflict must be resolved through empathy and dialogue.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 20, Page 30