The Korea Herald

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지나쌤

Parties mourn Sewol tragedy, nine years on

By Kim Arin

Published : April 16, 2023 - 18:06

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Democratic Party of Korea chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung and People Power Party chair Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon attend the remembrance ceremony on Sunday. (Yonhap) Democratic Party of Korea chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung and People Power Party chair Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon attend the remembrance ceremony on Sunday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s two main parties came together Sunday to remember the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16, 2014, which left 304 dead -- many of them high school students on a field trip.

“Nine years have passed but the memories of the tragedy are still with us. That day, all of us were praying for everyone’s safe return,” the ruling People Power Party chief spokesperson Rep. Kang Min-kuk said in a statement mourning the victims.

“Our deepest condolences to the bereaved families and survivors who have had to cope for the past nine years with their loved ones no longer with them.”

The Yoon Suk Yeol administration, together with the ruling party, said he was “committed to making communities safer and saving lives.”

Leaders of the ruling and opposition parties attended an annual event in Gyeonggi Province’s Ansan, where the high school once attended by many of the victims is located.

People Power Party Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, attending the event, appeared teary-eyed. He was seen briefly speaking with some bereaved family members of the Itaewon crowd crush disaster, and told them that he would be meeting with them.

The leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Korea Rep. Lee Jae-myung said that “protecting lives and safety of the people is the country’s duty.” “South Korea is becoming a country where people are left on their own,” he said.

Democratic Party spokesperson Rep. Kang Sun-woo said in a statement that the lessons of the Sewol tragedy went unlearned. On Oct. 29 last year, a crowd of mostly young people surged into a narrow alley in Itaewon, leading to 159 deaths.

“The government once again neglected its duties and let down young lives.”

At a series of remembrance ceremonies held on this day, Yoon was absent. The prime minister, deputy prime minister, minister and vice minister of oceans and fisheries, acting minister of interior and safety, and other high-ranking members of the Cabinet were present instead.

In November 2019, the country’s prosecution service launched a yearlong special investigation into the Sewol disaster with Yoon as prosecutor-general.

Prosecutors concluded the investigation by dropping charges against officials in the Park Geun-hye administration and other government institutions. Prosecutors said they found no evidence that then-Minister of Justice Hwang Kyo-ahn or Cheong Wa Dae obstructed justice, or that the National Intelligence Service spied on the bereaved families.

On April 16, 2022, the disaster’s anniversary falling on his last year of presidency, Yoon’s predecessor Moon Jae-in said the job of finding all the facts surrounding Sewol was not yet done.

Park, who was president at the time of disaster, designated April 16 as the national day of safety.