Opposition lawmakers staged a rally on Wednesday in front of the National Assembly, accusing the governing party of stalling the passage of a special bill aimed at forming a special investigation committee into the Sewol ferry disaster.
The so-called “special Sewol bill” is named after the sunken ferry that left more than 300 dead or missing.
But partisan division over how much legal power to give the panel is impeding the bill’s legislation, angering victims’ families who have been calling for a swift passage of the prospective law.
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, opposition and ruling Saenuri Party chiefs were still ironing out disagreements in an effort to pass the bill.
Opposition lawmakers and the bereaved families advocate forming a team of police detectives armed with investigative power. Families support giving such a team indictment powers as well, although not all opposition lawmakers agree with bestowing investigators with that much authority.
|Main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy cochairman Rep. Kim Han-gil on Wednesday speaks at a rally in front of the National Assembly urging the passage of the so-called special Sewol bill. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)|
Saenuri officials only agree with giving investigators inquiry powers, meaning that a probe team would be limited to determining the reasons of the ferry disaster. Authorizing more than that would go against current criminal laws, they said.
At Wednesday’s rally, main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Park Young-sun said the special Sewol bill must be passed quickly.
“To our Saenuri colleagues: Please, approach this issue with the heart of a parent,” she said.
Families of the ferry accident victims watched the opposition rally from only a few hundred meters away. They had been conducting a sit-in in front of the parliament building since Saturday to protest the continuing political division over the bill. Some family members had begun a hunger strike on Monday.
The families held signs reading, “An end to partisan bickering.”
The surviving Danwon High School second-year students meanwhile marched on the National Assembly on Wednesday. They had begun walking from their school in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province on Tuesday, to urge the special law’s passage.
But once the students arrived at the assembly building, a brawl broke out after police forces allegedly shoved a victim’s mother. The lady was sent to the hospital showing signs of having difficulty breathing.
Families demanded an apology from the police, but none was given. A few minutes later the scuffle broke out. As to what began the fight was unclear.
A policewoman was carried away apparently in pain, as some family members wailed.
The situation calmed but families continued their sit-in, as authorities failed to deliver an “acceptable apology.”
The students marching on the parliament were survivors of the accident that had killed more than 240 of their classmates and teachers. The teens were on a school trip to Jejudo Island when the 6,800-ton ship sank in the West Sea on April 16.
Families said earlier in the day they wanted to make their opinions on the special Sewol bill clearer.
“Passing the (special Sewol bill) does not mean we want more benefits and reparation payments from the government. We strongly call on our National Assembly to pass the bill, as part of efforts to clearly identify the causes of the (ferry) accident, and ensure that something like this never, ever, happens again,” a father of a victim said.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org