Families of S Korea ferry dead march on presidential palace

Families of S Korea ferry dead march on presidential palace
Yellow ribbons hang on a wire as relatives holding portraits of their children who perished when the 'Sewol' ferry sank with the loss of around 300 lives stage a sit-in protest demanding to see South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on a street near the presidential Blue House in Seoul on May 9, 2014.

SOUTH KOREA - Parents of children killed when a passenger ferry sank last month led a sombre march on South Korea's presidential palace in the early hours of Friday morning, where they demanded to meet with President Park Geun-hye.

Clutching memorial portraits of their children, family members and grieving parents were prevented by riot police from nearing the palace, and instead sat in the middle of the road where they sobbed, wailed and shouted in anger.

"Listen to us, President Park. Just give us ten seconds!,"one family member said, using a portable address system.

"Why are you blocking the way?," said another.

"President Park hear our voices!" Seated on the ground in the middle of the night, they wore beige blankets and huddled in rows on the cold floor. One mother, overcome with grief, quietly sobbed as she stroked a portrait of her dead son.

Park's government has faced continued criticism for its handling of the disaster from the families of the ferry victims, many of whom believe a faster initial response could have saved many more lives.

South Korean prosecutors are seeking the arrest of members of the family that owns the ferry operator, and may also seek the extradition of a son of the reclusive head of the family from the United States, an official said on Thursday.

The Sewol, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn, capsized and sank about 20 km (12 miles) off the southwest coast on a routine journey from Incheon on the mainland to the southern holiday island of Jeju, killing hundreds of children and teachers on a high school outing.

Only 172 people have been rescued and the remainder are all presumed to have drowned. An estimated 476 passengers and crew were on board.

However, some of the crew, including the captain were caught on videotape abandoning ship while the children were told numerous times to stay put in their cabins where they awaited further orders.

They paid for their obedience with their lives.

Heartbreaking new video released by families on the march showed students laughing as they tried, and failed, to scramble up a vertical floor.

Earlier footage recovered from the students' mobile phones shows them playing around as the ship started listing, even joking about the sinking of the Titanic, when they had plenty of time to jump overboard.

Only two of the vessel's 46 lifeboats were deployed.

INVESTIGATION BROADENS

The prosecutors' pursuit of a son and a daughter of Yoo Byung-un, the head of the family that owns Chonghaejin Marine, the ferry operator, broadens the criminal investigation into the tragedy. The government has also started the process of stripping the company of its licence to operate ferries.

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