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[Ferry Disaster] Parliament still split on hearings schedule

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Published : 2014-06-24 21:10
Updated : 2014-06-24 21:10

Families of victims of the Sewol sinking are blocked by staff members of Daejeon District Court in Daejeon, as they try to enter the property to speak with Cho In-ho, the president of the court, about a court officer’s remark about the victims, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Parliament’s panel investigating the Sewol accident remained stalled on Tuesday, as lawmakers wrangled over the scheduling of hearings for government agencies that could be responsible for the blundered rescue operations on April 16.

Committee members had agreed on Friday to hold hearings from this week. But the breakthrough agreement was scrapped after the families of Sewol victims called for the hearings to be postponed until July, when salvage operations to find the bodies of the 11 remaining victims would temporarily halt.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy accepted their demand, saying it would hence ditch last week’s agreement.

Ruling Saenuri Party officials slammed the NPAD’s move, insisting that the hearings must begin this Thursday as previously agreed.

Families have said officials from the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries must focus on bringing back the missing. The bereaved families also said the hearings for the three government institutions must take place at Jindo Island where the divers are still looking for bodies.

Rep. Cho Won-jin of the Saenuri Party offered a compromise to the NPAD. The hearings for Navy, Coast Guard and Oceans Ministry officials would be pushed to early next month in accordance with the families’ wishes but those for other government ministries would begin this week. Saenuri officials flatly rejected the plan to hold the hearings at Jindo Island.

The opposition would only accept Cho’s offer if he “gets permission to begin hearings this week from the families,” NPAD Rep. Kim Hyun-mee said.

The bipartisan panel kicked off on May 29, vowing to unearth the exact causes behind the April ferry disaster.

Suspicion among local media and political analysts that the usual political bickering between left and right would render the panel unproductive has proven unfortunately accurate.

Saenuri officials have failed to produce any meaningful investigation results other than setting up a hotline to receive anonymous tip-offs and reports.

A Saenuri official earlier Tuesday said there had been “only two noteworthy calls” concerning violations of safety rules on the Sewol before the accident.

The NPAD has likewise not engendered findings minus a Monday press release by Rep. Woo Won-shik claiming the Coast Guard had violated basic rescue guidelines on the day of the accident.

Families of the Sewol victims have asked lawmakers to conduct the investigations “without political considerations.”

“When they began this (investigation), they told us there would be no partisan rivalry. ‘We are all people like you’ is what they told us,” said Yoo Gyoung-geun, a man who lost his daughter in the accident. “I hope (the parliamentary panel) keeps that promise.”

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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