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Rival parties make compromise on controversial ferry bill

Ending months of bitter political confrontation, South Korea's rival parties on Tuesday reached a compromise on a controversial bill aimed at parsing the truth behind April's deadly ferry sinking.

South Korea's parliament has been stuck in limbo as the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Political Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) remained locked in a bitter dispute over the terms of the proposed bill that, among other things, would set the boundaries of an independent counsel probe of the sinking of the ferry Sewol, which left more than 300 people killed or missing, most of them high school students.

Right after the compromise, the main opposition party agreed to allow its more than 130 lawmakers to attend a special parliamentary session called by the ruling party to handle dozens of bills, including some aimed at reviving the slumping economy.

The ferry sinking has long become a political issue in South Korea, with critics arguing that the government's poor initial response to the disaster contributed to the high death toll.

The breakthrough came when the floor leaders of the two parties, Lee Won-koo from Saenuri and Park Young-sun from the NPAD, met and agreed on ways to guarantee the independence and fairness of an independent counsel probe.

The chairman of the National Assembly makes a speech to lawmakers before the plenary session on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The chairman of the National Assembly makes a speech to lawmakers before the plenary session on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Under the agreement, two parties also agreed to jointly recommend four independent counsel candidates for President Park Geun-hye to appoint one of them to lead the investigation.

Both sides also agreed to consider later whether to allow representatives of the victims' families to participate in the appointment process.

The 6,825-ton ferry sank off the southwest coast of South Korea on April 16. Most of its more than 470 passengers were students from one high school in a city just outside Seoul. The victims'

families have been staging protest rallies and sit-ins in the center of Seoul, asking the government to ensure a fair investigation. (Yonhap)