Park Visits Sewol Memorial as Families Depart Before Arrival

South Korean President Park Geun Hye paid respect to the more than 300 victims of the Sewol ferry sinking a year ago and pledged to raise the stricken vessel in an appearance shunned by families of those who died.

Park visited Paengmok harbor on the southwestern coast to mark the first anniversary of the disaster on Thursday, her office said in a text message. The harbor has emerged as a symbol of suffering for the families of the victims, which include 250 high school children from Ansan city near Seoul.

“One year ago today we lost so many precious ones in the Sewol accident that gave the entire nation so much shock and pain,” Park said, according to her office’s website. “It’s now time to seriously prepare to salvage the ship. I will try to have it salvaged as soon as possible,” she said. The National Assembly in Seoul separately passed a resolution calling for salvaging the ship, according to its website.

The outpouring of grief over the tragedy was so profound it led to a slump in consumer sentiment that weighed on economic growth. The families directed much of their anger over the sinking at Park, and her support levels remain near a record low. The anniversary coincided with new corruption allegations against members of her government, fueling fresh discontent.

Families left the harbor where the ceremony was held ahead of Park’s visit, Moon Jong Taek, who lost his daughter in the sinking, said by phone, declining to provide the reason. Earlier Thursday Prime Minister Lee Wan Koo visited a memorial in Ansan and received taunts from families protesting against the government’s handling of the incident, footage on broadcaster YTN showed.

Collusion

Park blamed the Sewol sinking partly on collusion between industries and regulators. South Korea has established a new safety ministry and broadened anti-bribery rules in response to the ferry incident. The government plans to spend 30 trillion won through 2019 to enhance public safety.

Ship inspections and crew safety training remain neglected while illegal modifications still occur, South Korea’s audit agency said last month. Families of the Sewol victims have demanded Park do more to find the cause of the sinking and prevent such disasters from happening again.

Park’s appearance today came after she publicly addressed allegations that eight members of her administration, including the prime minister, have taken bribes from Sung Wan Jong, head of Keangnam Enterprises. Sung made the charges in an interview with a local newspaper before being found dead with a suicide note last week. Prime Minister Lee denied the allegations.

Park said April 15 she would not tolerate corruption, referring to the allegations. On April 12 she called for a “strict and fair” investigation by a special team of prosecutors formed to probe the issue.

Those accused by Sung include Park’s chief of staff Lee Byung Kee and his two predecessors. Sung told the Kyunghyang Shinmun he also gave 200 million won ($184,000) to a member of Park’s presidential campaign team in 2012.

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