President Park Geun-hye said Friday that she would offer another public apology for the government's mishandling of the ferry disaster amid intensifying criticism about the sincerity of her previous apology and her leadership.
"I think it is my duty to apologise to the people and explain things after making the best efforts to find more of the missing (passengers), building a proper (safety) system and seeking alternatives," she said during a meeting with religious leaders at the Blue House.
Her plan for another apology came amid growing public anger directed at Cheong Wa Dae. The presidential office has increasingly become a target of public criticism sparked by a series of insensitive comments delivered by its officials, with some having denied that it serves as a "control tower" in the event of an emergency, and also by the president's apology, widely seen as improper and informal.
She was pressured to issue a separate public statement or hold a news conference to apologise for the government's failure to cope with the ferry disaster. The president, however, apologised during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday for the ferry tragedy that left more than 300 dead or missing. She also admitted that the government failed to prevent the accident and had a poor initial response.
Her plan to deliver another apology on Friday is being viewed as an attempt to placate the angry public after bringing the situation under control, as well as an expression of concern about growing public distrust in the government.
Rumours and reports have spread quickly this week about Park's suspicious encounter with an elderly woman at a memorial altar on Tuesday. She was photographed with a woman she met at the mourning centre in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, which instantly gave the public the impression that she was trying to comfort the relative of a victim. Later on, the woman was found to be a visitor who was not related to any of the victims. Cheong Wa Dae denied the reports.
The controversy over Park's suspicious encounter also aggravated public anger toward the top office over its response to the Sewol ferry disaster. Amid the dissatisfaction with the government, her approval ratings fell to the 40 per cent range for the first time in a year, a polling firm said on Thursday.
"I think it is extremely painful to see unconfirmed rumours creating social unrest and hurting the victims' families and the people," Park said. "This kind of thing doesn't help the people or the state," she added.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org)